Calls to VPLC’s Eviction Legal Help Line Increase 500%
Tuesday, September 27th, 2022
Now that important tenant protections have expired, Virginia courtroom dockets are stacked with eviction filings — as rents continue to skyrocket and the federally funded rent relief program has ended.
VPLC’s Eviction Legal Helpline is stretching to meet the need, as a typical week might bring more than 250 calls from desperate residents about to lose their homes. Helpline attorneys personally advise a limited number of callers facing a scheduled sheriff’s eviction or an upcoming court date. All callers are provided legal information and self-help materials through the website.
“As the demand for help has grown, we provide direct advice from an attorney to some and refer others to their local legal aid. But we also direct callers to our online information and self-help resources, which are designed to address their particular situation. Over the summer, those materials have been accessed and downloaded more than 1000 times each month. That has increased the reach of our services dramatically,” said Phil Storey, Director of the Eviction Legal Helpline.
Helping tenants understand their rights improves their odds of maintaining stable housing. Attorneys and outreach specialists are also canvasing communities and meeting tenants right where they are, distributing “Know Your Rights” literature and even talking with them about forming local tenant associations, particularly in larger rental communities owned by out-of-state companies.
Christie Marra, VPLC’s Director of Housing Advocacy, is concerned about inconsistencies and procedural issues she sees in courtrooms across Virginia, with judges not following standard rules of evidence in the cases.
“Eviction cases are being churned out and decided in less than one minute,” said Marra. “And once someone is evicted, they don’t just move on, the eviction follows them around indefinitely, severely limiting their ability to secure housing again.”
VPLC’s housing team is currently exploring the feasibility of a Right to Counsel campaign for tenants, along with efforts aimed at rent stabilization and measures that would provide more funding to financially strapped families, so they don’t get put out on the street.