MEDIA ADVISORY: Virginia Poverty Law Center urges Virginia courts to protect tenants as courts reopen and eviction cases proceed
Friday, May 15th, 2020
Virginia Poverty Law Center urges Virginia courts to pause hearing eviction cases until adequate safety measures are implemented, tenants receive advance notice on court procedures related to COVID-19, and the Virginia courts determine how to apply federal laws to non-payment eviction cases.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday May 15, 2020
RICHMOND, VA — As Virginia plans to open the state to more non-essential business activities, so, too, are Virginia courts opening to hear non-emergency matters such as evictions. Starting May 18, Virginia courts may begin hearing non-emergency matters under the latest Judicial Emergency Order issued by the Virginia Supreme Court on May 6.
We have serious concerns over the health and safety of tenants as courts begin to hear eviction cases. Beginning Monday, over 800 evictions cases are scheduled across the Commonwealth.
|JURISDICTIONS HEARING EVICTION CASES WEEKS OF MAY 18 AND MAY 25|
|Jurisdiction||Evictions begin on:||Total cases scheduled|
Unfortunately, little information about how these cases will be handled has been shared with the public. There is an unacceptably high risk of tenants losing their homes by default as many tenants will be barred from entry into courthouses under the Court’s May 6 judicial emergency order, and many tenants may feel attending court will put their health at risk. Procedures for requesting remote hearings have also not been adequately communicated to tenants facing eviction. It is unconscionable that tenants must choose between their health and their homes when staying home is the best way to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus.
We thank the Virginia courts that have declined the Virginia Supreme Court’s invitation to hear non-emergency matters for the time being. The Richmond City General District Court has halted hearing non-emergency matters until its proposed safety measures have been cleared with the Richmond City Health District despite neither the Virginia Supreme Court’s latest emergency order nor the OES guidelines requiring health officials to approve safety measures at Virginia court houses.
Beyond safety concerns, many tenants may be wrongfully evicted for failing to pay rent despite the federal moratorium on non-payment of rent evictions filed after March 27 for certain types of properties covered under the CARES Act. Determining which properties are “covered dwellings” with respect to which non-payment evictions are prohibited is complicated, and tenants have few resources to find out if they live in a “covered dwelling.” Unlike other state courts such as those in Arkansas, Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas, the Virginia Supreme Court has issued no guidance as to how Virginia courts are to apply and enforce the CARES Act, nor has it issued any directives on how Virginia Courts are to apply a new law affording those who can prove they lost income as a result of the COVID-19 crisis a 60-day continuance in non-payment eviction cases. At minimum, that guidance should require landlords to prove their property is not a “covered dwelling” and submit an affidavit that their property is not covered by the CARES Act.
Virginia courts are presently ill-equipped to resume hearing eviction cases. We call upon all Virginia courts to cease hearing eviction cases until:
– adequate safety measures are in place for in-person court hearings that have been vetted by state or local health departments;
– tenants receive advance written notification of the rules of entry into court houses and other safety measures, along with instructions on how to request remote hearings or other accommodations to address tenants’ physical or mental disabilities; and
– the Virginia Supreme Court issues directives and/or local courts publicize procedures on how they will apply the CARES Act eviction moratorium and the new Virginia law providing for continuances of non-payment evictions.