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Supreme Court of Virginia lifts eviction moratorium, advocates seek extension

Photo: Courtesy of MGN/Tony Magpantay
Photo: Courtesy of MGN/Tony Magpantay(WHSV)
Published: Jun. 23, 2020 at 5:04 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WHSV) —

June 23

A moratorium on evictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic has been lifted by the Supreme Court of Virginia, paving the way for eviction proceedings to resume next week.

The ban was originally put in place in March and was extended earlier this month. It is set to expire Sunday.

An order issued by the state's high court Monday said courts may resume hearing eviction cases on June 29.

Tenant advocates said thousands of families that are struggling financially because of COVID-19 could be affected.

“When you look at the unemployment numbers, those are astronomical, so I imagine that a lot of landlords may not have filed because courts were closed to evictions, and now they may step forward to do so,” said Elaine Poon, a managing attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Poon said advocates are calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to issue an executive order to prevent landlords from moving forward on eviction proceedings in court.

“We’re not asking for an indefinite moratorium. We’re asking for enough time to establish a robust rent relief program — one that is sufficiently funded and addresses all of the needs of Virginia,” Poon said.

Northam asked earlier this month that the eviction ban be extended to give his administration time to announce a rent relief program.

Northam's spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said Tuesday that the administration is in the process of finalizing the program and plans to roll it out on June 29.

On Monday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said the city plans to use $6 million of the $20.1 million it received from the state through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to provide rental assistance and to fund an eviction diversion program.

“From both a human services and a public health perspective, it is paramount that Richmond residents do not face housing insecurity during this pandemic,” Stoney said in a news release.

Stoney’s office said approximately 1,900 households in Richmond face a pending eviction. He said those cases will move forward if the eviction moratorium is not extended. Richmond has one of the highest eviction rates in the country.

Tenants can learn more about their rights and responsibilities at StayHomeVirginia.com.

Gov. Northam and his office also encourage all tenants to still pay their rent on time if they are able.

June 8

The Supreme Court of Virginia acted on Monday to temporarily halt all eviction proceedings across the commonwealth.

Over the weekend, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam requested a moratorium on eviction proceedings through a formal letter sent to Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Lemons.

On June 8, Chief Justice Lemons responded to the governor’s request by issuing an order that modifies the court’s earlier Declaration of Judicial Emergency in response to COVID-19.

The judicial emergency is officially extended until June 28 to halt all eviction proceedings for a period of nearly three weeks.

Originally, the judicial emergency, which suspended all non-essential, non-emergency court hearings, expired on May 17 and court hearings across most of Virginia resumed on Monday, May 18.

In light of that, with some eviction cases resuming over the past few weeks, Gov. Northam’s office released a list of resources to help people who may be facing eviction while still with income affected by COVID-19.

Now, the governor's office says the reinstated emergency will give the administration time to implement a "comprehensive rent relief program for the thousands of Virginians facing housing insecurity in the midst of this public health crisis."

“I am grateful to the Chief Justice for granting this order, and for the activists who have been working tirelessly on this important issue,” said Governor Northam. “Access to safe and stable housing is critically important, and this action will keep thousands of families in their homes as we work to get them the support they need.”

The rent relief initiative the governor's office mentioned is expected to be announced in the coming weeks and will be supported through CARES Act funding.

Tenants can learn more about their rights and responsibilities at StayHomeVirginia.com.

Gov. Northam and his office also encourage all tenants to still pay their rent on time if they are able.

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