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Stronger Eviction Protections Coming, Housing Advocates Say

row houses
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Virginians facing economic hardship due to the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, have new protections against losing their homes. But housing advocates are working to make sure this applies to all renters for the duration of this pandemic. 

The state Supreme Court declared a judicial emergency on Monday — suspending all non-emergency proceedings, including new eviction cases, for 21 days until April 6. After that, the court can decide to extend the emergency period for however long necessary. New petitions for eviction may be filed during this time. 

Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said that as of Wednesday, local legal aid attorneys had eviction cases heard in Fredericksburg, Loudoun and Leesburg. She added, that afternoon, the executive secretary of the Supreme Court sent an email to court staff across the state clarifying the moratorium on evictions. 

“It says, ‘while new petitions for evictions may be filed, it is anticipated that eviction proceedings will be suspended for the duration of the order as they are not emergency or mission-critical proceedings,’” Marra said. 

A big concern is whether Virginia sheriffs’ departments still plan to execute eviction writs that were issued by courts before closures, Marra said. The Richmond City Sheriff’s office told VPM in an email that they will continue to do so until further notice.

“Under Virginia law, they have 30 days to execute a writ before it expires. So they can wait until the 29th day,” Marra said. “I urge [sheriffs’ departments] to do that.”

Marra said another way to keep Virginians safely housed is for general district courts across the state to issue orders extending deadlines for all writs of eviction until the end of the emergency period — the combined court of Falls Church and Arlington County has already done this. VPLC is reaching out to legal aid housing attorneys in Virginia, with instructions for local sheriffs’ departments to request the same extensions from their local court. 

VPLC and the nonprofit organization Virginia Housing Alliance have also reached out to the Virginia Landlord Association to request that its members halt evictions until the COVID-19 outbreak is under control. 

Also this week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authorized the Federal Housing Administration to freeze foreclosures and evictions until May. The measure protects single-family homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages during the coronavirus pandemic — it also offers foreclosure relief to homeowners with loans from government-sponsored companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

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