In a prior post, I talked about Eastern Carolina Regional Housing Authority v. Lofton, 767 S.E.2d 63 (2014), a North Carolina Court of Appeals case requiring a landlord seeking summary ejectment based on breach of a lease condition to prove as an essential element of the case “that summarily ejecting [the] defendant would not be unconscionable.” Last week the North Carolina Supreme Court disagreed in a long-awaited opinion, making clear that “the equitable defense of unconscionability is not a consideration in summary ejectment proceedings.” In so doing, the Supreme Court finally put the issue to rest, reconciling inconsistent statements of the law in several Court of Appeals cases, including Lincoln Terrace Associates v. Kelly, Charlotte Housing Authority v. Fleming, 123 N.C. App. 511 (1996), and Durham Hosiery v. Morris. Today, NC law provides that in an action for summary ejectment based on breach of a lease condition, it is sufficient for a landlord to demonstrate that the tenant breached the lease in a manner triggering the right to declare a forfeiture; the landlord has no additional burden to demonstrate that the result of such forfeiture will not be unconscionable. The Lofton opinion, written by Justice Newby, is significant for another reason: the Court also addressed the relative roles of a public housing authority (PHA) and a trial court in a summary ejectment action based on criminal activity in violation of the lease.
Summary Ejectment & Unconscionability: When Breach of the Lease Is Not Enough
North Carolina law permits summary ejectment from residential housing only for reasons specified in the statute. G.S. 42-25.6. In Eastern Carolina Regional Housing Authority v. Lofton, 767 S.E.2d 63 (2014), the North Carolina Court of Appeals decided a case—and created new law – related to one of the most common grounds for summary ejectment: breach of a lease condition which, according to the lease itself, triggers the landlord’s right to declare the lease forfeited.