Legal aid service anticipates wave of evictions with rent moratorium ending

The federal eviction moratorium will be up on June 30th.
Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 8:39 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - The federal eviction moratorium will end on June 30 and case lawyers are gearing up for more court hearings.

Blue Ridge Legal Services in Harrisonburg is non-profit which provides free legal assistance in civil cases to lower income residents in the Shenandoah Valley.

John Whitfield, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Legal Services, said he does not anticipate the moratorium will be extended again so his team is preparing for an uptick in eviction filings and evictions at the end of this month.

Whitfield has been with the group for 40 years, but said this past year has certainly been unusual.

“It’s been a crazy year in terms of the law and procedures and the courts and evictions. Things have changed from week to week, literally,” Whitfield said.

“We’re keeping cheat sheets of what’s the current best defenses and what expired last month and what is coming next month,” he added.

Whitfield said it has been a confusing time for the courts, landlords, tenants and legal staff.

He said courts have interpreted the moratorium differently.

“Some judges have said ‘Well, you can’t file anything,’ other judges said ‘Yes, you can file something but we won’t hear it,” other judges have said ‘Well yes, you can file something, we will hear it, we will even enter a judgement for possession, but you can’t enforce that judgement.’ ‘You can’t actually have the sheriff come and put someone out until the moratorium has ended,’” Whitfield said.

Whitfield said the courts in Harrisonburg average about 90 eviction filings a month. In 2020, filings were down about a third and in the first three months of 2021 it was only a third.

The clock is ticking on what’s left of the moratorium and Whitfield expects things to pick up.

“Come July 1, there may be a wave of sheriff’s evictions, enforcing orders that have been enacted over the previous months,” Whitfield said.

He added that some landlords also just have not filed because of other temporary protections.

But Whitfield hopes to get the word out about the rent relief program in which tenants can apply for aid from the state.

“It’s a win-win. The landlord gets their money, the tenant gets to stay housed, but people need to take advantage of that,” Whitfield said.

You can find more information on the rent relief program here.

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