Charlottesville attorney pushes for General Assembly, courts to act on evictions

Charlottesville attorney pushes for General Assembly, courts to act on evictions
A banner that reads "Stop Evictions Now" is held at a rally in Richmond ahead of the state legislature's special session. (Source: WWBT)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - With the Virginia legislature back in session, many are calling on lawmakers to deal with an eviction crisis that has been complicated by the Coronavirus pandemic.

With eviction hearings still ongoing across the state, Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Elaine Poon is calling for that to change.

“In any time someone being homeless is unacceptable,” Poon said. “But in this situation when someone is homeless they will increase the spread of the pandemic.”

Poon was among those rallying in Richmond on Tuesday, calling on legislators to pass an eviction moratorium.

“The rally’s point was to make sure the General Assembly understood that the eviction moratorium and rent relief were high priorities for the community,” she said.

After the first moratorium expired in July, evictions could proceed again. Then, the state supreme court barred new eviction notices starting earlier this month, but that expires on September 7.

“I worry that without an extension from the Supreme Court, we might have a gap,” Poon said.

Poon says the action can’t stop at the court-level. She’s calling for a comprehensive package to pass during the special session. Gov. Ralph Northam already expressed his support for it. The package would stop eviction hearings and create a moratorium through the end of April.

“The first step in the process is that you receive a letter that says that you have to leave or you have to pay up,” Poon said. “So, even that step should be prevented.”

Legal Aid Justice Center projects 90 eviction cases over the next eight weeks in Albemarle County and Charlottesville and more than 7,000 statewide.

“Despite our office technically being closed and should be virtual, many of my staff attorneys are coming into the office because they’re preparing for court hearings,” Poon said.

An eviction moratorium bill was introduced in the Senate during the first day of the special session.

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