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The economy hits home: More tenants ousted in Hall
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Hall County’s sheriff’s deputies don’t enjoy evictions, but it’s part of the job.

And while they braced for more of them during an economic downturn, so far the numbers have remained steady from years past.

Dispossessories, meanwhile — the legal papers giving tenants notice they must vacate the premises for nonpayment of rent — are up noticeably from a year ago in Hall County, a sign of the times in a tight economy. And dispossessories for homes in foreclosure have gone up five-fold or more — much like foreclosures themselves, officials say.

On average, Hall County deputies assist in anywhere from 450 to 500 evictions a year. Their job is to accompany a representative of the landlord, often a moving crew, and "keep the peace" during what can be a tense time as belongings are carried out.

"It’s a function the sheriff’s office is required to do by law, however, it’s the least desirable part of our job," Hall County Sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland said. "None of our officers enjoy doing this duty, particularly around the holidays."

Capt. Chris Matthews, the commander of the courts services division that handles all civil services, including dispossessories and evictions, said his deputies expected their eviction work would pick up in the current economic climate.

"We thought it would, but it’s been pretty much the same," Matthews said.

As of Oct. 31, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office had served 397 evictions, compared with 462 in all of 2007.

Chief Hall County Magistrate Court Judge Margaret Gregory said there has been an increase in dispossessories, and the court regularly hears applications for those. On Thursday she had five applications, the week before, 15.

At the end of October, the court had issued 2,777 dispossessories, an increase of 434 over the number issued at the same time last year.

Many of those civil warrants are issued in cases involving low-income housing where tenants pay week to week, Gregory said. Most people abide by the dispossessory notice before they are formally evicted.

Gregory said the biggest increase is in those filing for dispossessories on residents of foreclosed homes. "That’s the result of folks going into foreclosure and then staying in the house," she said. "They stay until they’re filed against (by the new owner). It used to be one or two a month, now it’s 15 or more a month."

Gregory agreed that the economy is to blame.

"Folks are just having a hard time," she said.

Realtor Frank Norton Jr. said most of the area’s large rental property owners have not noticed a significant spike in evictions. Many landlords tightened their standards in recent years to avoid having to evict, Norton said.

"We have seen people who are not getting evicted, but when their lease is up they move out and move in with family or they double up with roommates," Norton said. "We have seen some tightening up."

Norton hopes the worst of the foreclosure wave has passed through the Gainesville area. He noted that foreclosure legal notices in The Times were at their highest in September, with 266. That was followed by 155 in October and 109 this month.

Norton said about 20 percent of those were builder foreclosures.

"The bulk of the builder foreclosures have already passed us," Norton said.

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