Twenty percent of the families living at 90 Dillon Apartments, a low-income housing complex on Hilton Head Island, were evicted the first week of October, leaving residents scrambling for alternate arrangements.
All nine of the evictions issued at the 48-unit community were for the same reason: a habitual failure to pay rent on time, a practice that had been allowed for years, but had ended abruptly this fall without notice.
Property manager Steve Norman said that although late payment, with a $50 fee, has been allowed in the past, the number of tenants who continually paid late every month increased this year.
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"According to tenants' contracts, they have to pay their rent on time," Norman said.
90 Dillon Apartments, built in the 1990s, is funded by state tax credits. Rent at the complex is due between the 1st and the 5th of every month.
The nine families who were issued eviction orders had all consistently paid their rents late, Norman said.
"It was just about every month (this year)," he said, adding most of the families had been residents at the community for at least two years, but some had been living there for up to six years.
The eviction notice stated the tenants must move out within 30 days -- the end of October. Of the nine so far, four families have moved out.
Norman said a ruling from a Bluffton magistrate judge on Nov. 23 stated that three of the remaining families must leave by Dec. 7. The other two must leave by Dec. 28.
Resident Claudia Toro, a three-year resident who must leave by Dec. 7, admitted that she has regularly paid her rent late, along with the $50 fee.
But she didn't think doing so could get her kicked out.
"I don't remember (the landlord) giving me any sort of warning," she said.
Norman confirmed that no written or verbal notice was issued to the residents letting them know they wouldn't be allowed to pay their rent late anymore.
When Toro went to pay her rent and the late fee at the complex's office shortly after Oct. 5, Norman refused to take the money.
"He told me I was getting evicted because I hadn't paid my October rent," said Toro, who was shocked by the news.
Norman said lease agreements don't specify the number of times a tenant is allowed to pay their rent late before they are evicted.
The change was handed down from the affordable housing company that owns 90 Dillon Apartments, RLJ Management, based in Columbus, Ohio. RLJ owns 151 properties in the U.S.
"My superiors (recently) said there needed to be a zero-tolerance policy for tenants paying late," Norman said. "Whoever is late needs to leave."
That's why, he said, so many eviction notices were issued at one time.
Toro, who has a 2-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter in the gifted and talented program at Hilton Head Island Elementary School, said she doesn't know where she will live come Monday. She has put her name and phone number on lists for several housing communities in the area, but says places are full or out of her price range.
"I'm going to have to go to a hotel," she said.