Know your rights: Housing activists work to prevent evictions

Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America volunteers and supporters assisted around a dozen tenants who were facing eviction at the Albemarle County Courthouse 
last Thursday. PC: Staff Photo Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America volunteers and supporters assisted around a dozen tenants who were facing eviction at the Albemarle County Courthouse last Thursday. PC: Staff Photo

For months, a state eviction moratorium prevented tenants from being forced out of their homes for not paying rent. But at the beginning of this month, the Virginia Supreme Court declined to extend the ban before it expired September 7, pointing to a new Centers for Disease Control order prohibiting evictions until the end of the year.

However, the CDC moratorium is “opt-in,” explains Emma Goehler, chair of the Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America’s Housing Justice Committee. “You have to know about it, meet certain criteria, and fill out a declaration form in order to be eligible for it,” which must be presented to your landlord.

Last Thursday, Goehler and other DSA volunteers assisted around a dozen tenants in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse, where more than 30 unlawful detainer and eviction cases were on the docket.

“It should be a comprehensive moratorium, but in practice it’s been less people knowing about it. There really hasn’t been much effort to disperse information from the federal government,” says Goehler. “So that’s where we’ve been stepping in.”

According to the CDC, the moratorium only applies to tenants who expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income—or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return—this year, and who are unable to pay their rent due to loss of household income (or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses). Tenants must also swear that they’re making their “best efforts” to obtain government assistance, and pay as much of their rent as possible, under penalty of perjury.

Those who are not protected by the CDC moratorium may still get a 60-day extension if they show up to court with written evidence that they have lost income due to the pandemic.

But since the state moratorium was lifted on September 8, five eviction judgments have been made against tenants in Charlottesville, and 19 have been made in Albemarle County, most likely because the tenants did not know about the moratorium, or they did not attend their hearings.

Because tenants will still face eviction if they do not pay off their rent debt before the moratorium ends, DSA is working to connect them with various assistance resources, like the Emergency Rent and Mortgage Relief Program hotline.

In the meantime, DSA hopes the Virginia General Assembly will pass more comprehensive legislation canceling all rent debt and removing eviction filings from tenants’ housing records.

“The fact that you’ve had an eviction filing…[makes] it harder for you to find housing in the future,” says Goehler.

According to the Legal Aid Justice Center, the current language surrounding evictions in the proposed budgets in the state House and Senate needs a lot of improvement.

“[It] doesn’t stop landlords from evicting people in the midst of a global health pandemic for minor lease violations, such as having a guest stay too long. Even the protections it provides for tenants who aren’t able to pay their rent aren’t strong enough,” says Communications Director Jeff Jones.

“However, there are still several steps left in the budget process,” he says. “We look forward to continuing to work with legislators to ensure that all tenants can remain safely in their homes until the present health emergency ends.”

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