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Chesterfield families displaced before Christmas: ‘I’m very afraid’

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Posted at 5:39 PM, Dec 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-22 18:13:33-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Some Chesterfield families are in danger of being homeless two weeks after their apartments caught fire.

Chesterfield Fire Lt. Kenny Mitchell said improperly discarded smoking material started the flames at Rollingwood Apartments on Tanners Way.

The December 6 fire forced 12 adults and 17 children out of their homes.

Two weeks later, some of the families still have nowhere to go.

Da’Javonne Holmes said she is still trying to find a new place to live for her and her three children. Her relatives live out of town.

“I have funds for a day in the hotel, but I’m not sure what I’ll do after that,” Holmes said. “I’m very afraid. I have three children, I don’t know what to do.”

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Holmes, other residents and housing advocates gathered outside of the damaged apartments on Tuesday to share their concerns.

Christie Johnson moved in to her apartment two weeks ago.

“I was real upset and hurt and felt hopeless when I came home and everything I worked for was on fire,” Johnson stated.

The tenants expressed frustration about what they described as a lack of communication within the rental office and employees.

Residents also said the fire alarms were not working during the fire.

Tracey Hardney-Scott, the housing chair of the State Conference NAACP, called on the property management to do more to help the tenants.

“Management did follow protocol returning money to [the tenants], however two weeks later those funds are now exhausted. These people have nowhere to go and it’s a holiday and there are children involved,” Hardney-Scott explained.

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According to Virginia code, landlords are not required to provide a tenant displaced by a fire with another rental unit or hotel.

The tenant does not owe rent for any time they can’t live in the property due to the damages. The landlord must also return unearned rent and the tenant’s security despite, as long as they don’t owe unpaid rent and they didn’t cause the fire.

The landlord must also allow a tenant to end their lease within receiving a written notice within 14 days of the day they leave.

Hardney-Scott urged lawmakers to change the laws and provide more protections for tenants.

Charles Willis, Executive Director of United Communities Against Violence, organized the news conference along with Richmond NAACP and other health advocates.

CBS 6 reached out to the property managers multiple times after the news conference.

A woman who answered the rental office said someone would respond to our inquiry.

As of Tuesday afternoon, our requests for comment have not been returned.