Lawyer: Here's what to tell a judge to help avoid eviction during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 7:40 AM, Aug 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-26 07:40:41-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The fear of eviction is enough to keep millions of Americans up at night. Keisha Logan recently recounted her struggle to stay afloat in Richmond.

“You’re working long hours to pay the bills and when you have other family members not working, you are trying to split up whatever you have,” Logan said.

Since March, more than 12 million renters have been shielded against losing their homes thanks to the federal moratorium. This week, those protections ran out.

Logan was lucky enough to get help through Housing Opportunities Made Equal, or HOME.

Palmer Heenan, an attorney with Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, said many other renters will end up in court.

“Starting tomorrow and going forward for the next few weeks, there will be thousands or tens of thousands of eviction lawsuits filed across the Commonwealth,” Heenan added.

The CARES ACT measure covered renters in homes with federally backed mortgages. They were protected through August 24. Landlords were also required to give tenants a 30-day notice to either pay past due rent or vacate the premises.

Though state and local rent relief programs are available, so many people are applying - and there’s a backlog. The fear is that renters will face eviction lawsuits before their rent assistance goes through.

Monica Jefferson, with HOME, advised renters to call their agency immediately when they get that unlawful detainer notice. She said resources are available and explained how their voluntary Eviction Diversion Program can help.

“They can call the eviction hotline which is manned by the Virginia Poverty Law Center. If they would leave a message, someone would return the call in 24-48 hours. We will do an assessment and see if they qualify. Then if they qualify, we will assign a mediator to contact them and the landlord,” Jefferson said.

Another fear is that landlords who haven’t given tenants the required 30-day notice will file eviction lawsuits anyway. That is why tenants are also encouraged to contact the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, and should always show up to court.

“Show up to court and say, 'look, I’m covered by the federal eviction moratorium, but I never got a 30-day notice.' This means they can’t move forward in this case. That’s the most important thing a tenant can do,” Heenan added.

Tenants facing eviction can call the Eviction Hotline at 1-833-663-8428 and select option 4. Since its inception, Jefferson said the Eviction Diversion program has assisted roughly 150 people to avoid eviction.

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