Northam renews call to suspend evictions as more than 2,000 families lose homes

Posted at 3:14 PM, Jul 30, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Ralph Northam is once again calling on the Virginia Supreme Court to suspend all eviction cases in the state.

In a letter dated July 24, to Virginia Supreme Court Justice Don Lemons, Northam calls for a statewide moratorium on residential evictions until September 7.

“This will provide my administration the time to both work with the General Assembly to develop and pass a legislative package that will provide additional relief to those facing eviction and to expand financial assistance for tennants through our rent relief program,” Northam wrote.

The Governor's previous statewide moratorium on evictions expired on June 29, the same day Northam launched the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, using $50 million in federal CARES Act funding.

"Since that date, we have worked to provide relief to 1,880 households experiencing economic hardship as a result of the pandemic and processed payments to 467," Northam wrote. "We prioritized providing funding to those households currently facing an unlawful detainer hearing in order to prevent families from being separated from their homes during the ongoing public health crisis."

Northam says the coronavrius pandemic is "far from over" and a growing wave of evictions is particularly worrisome, especially in the Hampton Roads region, where cases have spiked.

Northam said, based on the most recent reporting on the schedule of unlawful detainer hearings, more than 6,000 hearings will take place in Virginia between July 20 and August 7.

"Not all tenants have access to federal or state eviction protections, and many more are either not yet aware or are working to obtain assistance through our rent relief program," he continued. "Further, many tenants may be ineligible for the rent relief assistance due to federal restrictions."

Lemons has not responded to Northam’s request, but has extended the declaration of judicial emergency which allows exceptions to a speedy trial during the coronavirus pandemic.

Northam's call for the Virginia Supreme Court to suspend evictions isn't new. Before the previous statewide moratorium on evictions expired, Northam wrote to the Chief Judge of each General District Court requesting that they delay docketing eviction cases to give time for those who need financial assistance.

“I think we are at the point of where a tsunami could suddenly strike," Steven Fischbach, Litigation Director at Virginia Poverty Law Center, said. “We’re keeping track of the number of evictions cases that are scheduled to be heard by every court in the state.”

He said courts across the state will hear nearly 9,500 eviction cases over the next 8 weeks.

“During the week of August 31st there are over 500 eviction cases scheduled to be heard alone," Fischbach added.

According tothe Legal Aid Justice Center, since the statewide moratorium on evictions expired on June 29, more than 12,000 cases have been heard in court and more than 2,000 families have lost their homes

Fischbach said two things ended recently that could really affect eviction numbers in Virginia.

"The first was the ending of the 600 dollars per week that people on unemployment were receiving," Fischbach said.

The second he said, was the end of the moratorium preventing evictions to those housed under the CARES Act.

“To do evictions from those properties now requires a 30-day notice," Fischbach said. "So by the end of August, we’re anticipating a lot of new eviction cases filed from those properties."

CBS 6 reached out to the Governor's office for a comment. Spokesperson Alena Yarmosky said the following:

"While Governor Northam is hopeful the Court reinstates the moratorium, he remains focused on ensuring our rent and mortgage relief program assists as many Virginians as possible. He will continue to do everything in his power to keep Virginians in their homes."

When asked why the Governor doesn’t use an executive order instead of asking the courts, Yarmosky says an executive order "would likely raise legal complexities that would tie the case up in court" and keep relief from Virginians who need it most.