Evictions ramp up in Virginia as local courts decline governor’s request to continue moratorium

Evictions ramp up in Virginia as local courts decline governor’s request to continue moratorium
Protesters at the John Marshall Courthouse in Richmond on Wednesday opposed the end of a statewide eviction moratorium. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Courts around Virginia began working their way through a backlog of more than 12,000 eviction cases last week as a statewide moratorium expired, with many judges apparently declining a last-minute request from Gov. Ralph Northam to continue the stay at the local level.

“It’s a total patchwork,” said Christie Marra, the director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, which has asked Northam to use his executive authority to intervene more decisively. She said the current approach of leaving the decision to local courts is “absolutely not working.”

Meanwhile, landlord groups said they were pleased that judges had resumed hearing the cases. “I think the worry with any moratorium is you start to cross a point where a moratorium starts to become an unconstitutional taking,” said Patrick McCloud, executive director of the Virginia Apartment Management Association. He said most tenants are continuing to pay rent, which he credited to federal unemployment and stimulus programs. “Rent collections are not terribly far off from where they would be absent a pandemic.”

District courts docketed more than 1,600 eviction lawsuits last week, with judges awarding $1.4 million in cash judgments to landlords, according to online docket information compiled by open government groups virginiacourtdata.org.

That’s 600 more cases than courts heard the same week last year, according to the data. But the numbers also show a slight shift in the outcome of the cases in favor of tenants, with landlords winning judgments in 23 percent of cases, down from 41 percent at the same time last year.

It’s unclear precisely how many of the 129 district courts in the state agreed to Northam’s request that they continue to delay the cases, but the count appears to below. The Supreme Court of Virginia’s administrative office said it didn’t track that information. Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said the administration didn’t have a full list but is aware of only two: Arlington General District Court and Fairfax General District Court.

“Gov. Northam is grateful that these courts have complied with his request, and he continues to strongly urge all General District Courts to follow suit,” she said in an email, noting Northam is seeking millions in additional federal funding to shore up a rent and mortgage relief program launched by his administration.

Of the cases that were heard last week, the outcomes varied dramatically by jurisdiction. Virginia Beach, Hampton and Portsmouth recorded the largest share of judgments in favor of landlords, according to court records analyzed by virginiacourtdata.org. In other cities and counties, including Richmond, Albemarle and Henrico, the numbers favored tenants, with more cases continued or dismissed.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.