Residents reeling over recent spikes in apartment rent

Apartment residents experience sticker shock as prices skyrocket
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 5:17 PM EST
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SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA, N.C. (WECT) - Some local apartment residents are experiencing sticker shock, after finding out their apartment complexes are raising their rent significantly, without providing any additional amenities. Since the tenants’ paychecks haven’t changed, they are left wondering how they’ll come up with the extra money to make rent.

Tina Sirianni moved to Brunswick County last year from Rochester, New York. She was thrilled to move into a brand new luxury two-bedroom apartment near Oak Island, but was somewhat surprised by the $1,600 price tag for her base rent. She could not believe it when just one year later, apartment managers at Hawthorne at Pine Forest said her rent would be going up to $1,900 a month.

“I can’t afford it. We expected an increase anywhere from 2% to 10%. But [this] increase — it’s just, it’s not fair. We have no choice but to find somewhere else to live, and there’s nowhere, and Hawthorne knows that,” Sirianni said of the limited housing options nearby. “We are not talking about buying a new car or going out to eat. This has everything to do with the fear of being evicted from our homes due to corporate greed. It is a matter of survival.”

Siranni’s neighbor, Becky Holbert, was told the $1,085 rent for her one bedroom unit would be going up to $1,499 a month, an even steeper rate increase. She moved to Hawthorne at Pine Forest after the two previous places she was renting on Oak Island were sold out from under her.

“They’re making us feel like they’re doing us a favor,” Holbert said of her landlords bringing the proposed renewal rate down to $1,400 a month. “It’s still outrageous. A 30% increase when I’m 57 years old, and I’ve been renting practically all of my life. I’ve never seen an increase like that. So for someone to say to me, ‘These increases are normal’ — they’re not. They’re not.”

While the rent increases may be especially steep at Hawthorne at Pine Forest, rent data research firm Apartment List says the average apartment rent in the Wilmington area has gone up 19% since the pandemic began. Median rents in Wilmington currently stand at $1,038 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,294 for a two-bedroom.

Holbert says the cost of utilities, groceries, and gas is going up too, and people’s paychecks aren’t going up enough to cover the added expenses.

“People talk about fixed incomes and when you think about it, a person who is being paid by a company, an employee; they are on a fixed income unless they get granted a raise. So really, we’re all living on a fixed income,” Holbert reasoned. “This is real life. We are all working. We are not the 1%. We are the people in this country. And to have corporate come in and say we are going to create our own wealth on the backs of the people [is not right].”

Regional managers for the Hawthorne apartment chain did not respond to our request for an interview. Holbert said when she questioned managers about the steep rate increase, they told her they were raising rates because they could, and that the market dictated the price increase.

“There are a lot of people in this area with premier pricing on their homes right now, who are actually cashing out so they can pad their retirements. And now they have apartments that they can go live in and rent until they figure out what they want to do. And, unfortunately, that’s what we heard has driven Hawthorne. They say it’s the market that’s driving it,” Holbert added.

Adding to the hardship, many of these residents say the thought of having to pack up everything they own and move to a new place is daunting, especially since many of them just moved here and had started to find their place in a new community. They’ve appealed to local and state law makers to consider imposing some kind of rent controls to prevent these types of spiraling costs, but it’s not clear if there is any political appetite for that.

State Representative Charlie Miller told WECT his researchers were looking into potential legal remedies for tenants in this bind, but since these were privately owned properties, he was not confident there was much that could be done. Hawthorne residents had also set up a meeting with Brunswick County Commissioner Pat Sykes to discuss their concerns regarding skyrocketing rental costs.

While rent has gone up dramatically during the pandemic, Apartment List found that across the nation, rent prices fell 0.2% in December, representing the country’s first measurable price decline since 2020

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