Area attorneys train volunteer lawyers in tenants’ rights, eviction law

Area attorneys train volunteer lawyers in tenants’ rights, eviction law

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Many Virginians are concerned that they won’t be able to afford a safe place to live, and with the number of eviction cases rising, a group of housing attorneys is working to train more lawyers to help them tackle the problem.

Several members of the Charlottesville Albemarle Bar Association (CABA) were trained on housing and tenants' rights and eviction law to help during an unprecedented time of housing and financial crises.

Palmer Heenan, an attorney with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, and Brenda Casteñada, with Legal Aid Justice Center, led the eviction defense training for members of CABA.

“You can learn it, and you can learn it pretty quickly,” Casteñada said.

They say the ability to learn quickly and help out on cases is important because Virginia courts have heard nearly 25,000 eviction cases since late June.

“It’s utterly overwhelming,” Heenan said. "And it’s sort of hard when you think about, that’s a big number, right? But an eviction lawsuit doesn’t represent a person, it represents a family.”

Heenan shared just how important stable housing can be, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have a client who is living in his car with his children now because they were evicted,” he said. "Do you think his kids can go to class? His car does not have Wi-Fi.”

Kristin Clarens, the coordinator of CABA’s Volunteer Lawyer Program, says efforts to go beyond what is required of these attorneys is critical to help communities during times of need.

“The uptick of people willing to volunteer precisely at the time that they would be most stressed or most panicked or anxious or worried about their own income, or their own time allocation," she said, "It was awesome.”

Clarens said they are still looking for more volunteer lawyers to help with eviction cases.

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