RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The temporary suspension on eviction cases ordered by the Virginia Supreme Court has ended. As of last week, courts have restarted non-essential cases, which means eviction cases are picking up again- including in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield.
Housing advocates say this is especially concerning with so many people out of work during a pandemic.
Members of the groups Richmond Strike and the Richmond Tenants Union were stationed outside the John Marshall Courthouse in Richmond Monday, to help counsel people going through eviction proceedings. The groups also staged a car rally at noon. The coalition says they’re calling upon Governor Northam and Virginia officials to halt all eviction and debt collection cases until the job market recovers.
However, attorneys from the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society and the Virginia Poverty Law Center say the Supreme Court of Virginia already dismissed a petition they submitted to stop courts from hearing eviction cases, further.
News laws passed in Virginia since the pandemic hit, can allow residents to delay eviction cases by 60 days. They must show proof of being financially impacted by COVID-19, and meet other specific guidelines.
What you shouldn’t do is skip your court date. If you don’t show up without rescheduling first, a default judgment can be made against you, allowing your landlord to legally kick you out of your home.
Evictions for people living in federally-subsidized housing, or who have a federally guaranteed mortgage, are still halted through July 24th, per the CARES Act.
For anyone who has received an unlawful detainer, your first move should be to ask your landlord if you can work out a payment plan for a few months.
“Some landlords are being reasonable. Some, unfortunately, are not,” said Marty Wegbreit, Director of Litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.
If you do end up going to court, you may qualify for the 60-day postponement. Anyone who qualifies must have lost income between March 12th and June 10th in 2020, and your first court date must also be before September 10th.
“The idea is to draw an analogy from COVID-19 to flatten the curve, to push things out farther so the hardship doesn’t all hit at once,” said Wegbreit.
You have to show the judge written proof that you’ve lost wages, like a pay stub showing zero earnings or a termination or furlough letter from your employer. If you don’t have one, ask your boss to write one.
"The tenant must come to court with written proof of the income loss. That's the key takeaway," said Wegbreit
Wegbreit says you can also write and sign your own affidavit, stating you lost wages because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Check out the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society’s COVID-19 webpage and click on “How I can delay my eviction case, if I’ve lost income due to COVID-19?” for a detailed outline and forms you can use to help delay your case.
House Bill 1420, which was also recently passed, caps late fees at 10 percent of your rent for the months your behind, or 10 percent of the remaining balance, whichever is less.
Hopefully, you’re getting unemployment benefits linked to the pandemic during the 60 day continuance, including the federal $600 per week payout. Wegbreit says this can help you pay back rent and fees after the 60-day period is over. At that time, your eviction case will likely be moved forward.
That said, anyone showing potential COVID-19 symptoms or who has been impacted by the pandemic making them unable to attend a court date, can ask the clerk to reschedule prior to the hearing, according to a May 6th emergency order from the Virginia Supreme Court:
5) All courts and security personnel shall take reasonable measures to prohibit individuals from entering the courthouse if they have, within the previous 14 days:
i. traveled internationally;
ii. been directed to quarantine, isolate, or self-monitor;
iii. been diagnosed with, or have had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with, COVID-19;
iv. experienced a fever, cough, or shortness of breath; or v. resided with or been in close contact with any person in the above-mentioned categories.
The court and security personnel shall direct such individuals to contact the clerk’s office by telephone or other remote means to inform the clerk of their business before the court so they may receive further instruction regarding alternate arrangements for court access.
10) Continuances and excuses for failure to appear shall be liberally granted for any cause resulting from the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
But with Virginia’s unemployment rate the highest in four decades, housing advocates fear after the 60 days is up, there’s still going to be a surge of court-approved evictions.
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