COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — Advocates say South Carolina’s eviction rate remains among the highest in the nation.

Michelle Mapp, the advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, said the state’s eviction filing rate stands at 23.3%. The national average is about 8%.

One factor contributing to the disparity is the low cost associated with filing an eviction in the state, Mapp said. landlords can initiate eviction proceedings for as little as $40.

“The average eviction filing rate in the country is about $115,” Mapp said. “So in South Carolina, we’ve made the process very easy to file an eviction against someone.”

The filing fee cost could dictate the behavior of landlords, she said.

The serial eviction rate is 52.5%, according to Mapp. She said in Alabama, where the cost to file an eviction is about $250, it’s at 5.8%.

The ACLU is advocating for an increase in this filing fee.

Another change Mapp said they would like to see is a way to seal eviction records if the eviction is settled or dismissed against a tenant that didn’t do anything wrong.

“Once an eviction is filed against you, it goes on the public index,” Mapp said. “We do not have a process whereby that is removed.”

Access to legal assistance and resources is another critical factor in the high eviction rate according to Mapp, who said the ACLU is advocating for a “right to counsel” law. This legislative session some legislation that would do this was filed but did not advance.

In 2019, a Housing Court pilot program was launched becasue of the number of evictions in the Charleston area. The program is aimed at providing tenants with legal support and guidance when facing an eviction.

Officials said it has been successful, and earlier this year the State Supreme Court greenlighted an expansion of the program statewide.