ROANOKE, Va. (WRIC) – A Hampton-based legal firm is being hit with a federal lawsuit. The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) is accusing it of abusive and unfair debt collection practices in violation of federal law.
This is not the first time Senex Law is being sued. The lawsuit states, “Senex has had three years to learn its lesson and voluntarily adjust its practices but has wholly failed to do so.”
A statement announcing the suit said, “Landlords throughout Virginia contract with Senex Law to prepare and send notices to tenants whenever a renter is late on a rent payment. With each notice, Senex charges the tenant attorney’s fees—though the firm did little more than print and mail a letter—raking in big profits off the backs of those most in need.”
The complaint alleges notices sent to tenants appear to be directly from their landlord, despite the fact that they were prepared and sent by Senex Law. LAJC claims it is misleading.
Jennifer Lord of Roanoke is one of three Virginia residents being represented by the LAJC. 8News spoke with her by phone. She had a clear message for Senex.
“Consider your tenants, consider what you’re doing and how you’re doing it because it’s not right and it’s stressful and hurtful,” Lord said.
The lawsuit also asserts that Senex’s process leads to lawyer fees racking up.
For example, the complaint shows Lord was billed four times in the past year for her rent, a $100 late fee, and a $30 lawyer fee for a “non-compliance letter,” but if she didn’t pay in full within five days, she was told she’d be taken to court for an eviction lawsuit, for which she’d owe another $100 in attorney fees and court costs. Lord said she did pay up so she would not get evicted.
“It needs to be able to be stopped now so that others don’t encounter the distress and the anguish that myself and other plaintiffs involved in this are experiencing,” Lord said. “It’s stressful because, with the way the fees are added on to rent, it makes it impossible to catch up to ever get ahead.”
In a press release, the tenants’ lawyers accused the firm of holding a “starring role in the state’s mass evictions.”
“Senex Law has taken extraordinary measures to try and skirt the protections Congress put in place to try and prevent abusive debt collection practices. They lurk in the shadows so they can flout necessary consumer protections and charge attorneys’ fees that put Virginians who are already in financial trouble further into the hole,” said Brenda Castañeda, Legal Director with the Legal Aid Justice Center.
According to court documents, “After sending these hundreds or thousands of illegal notices, Senex files corresponding unlawful detainers across the Commonwealth with little to no attorney involvement. In 2020 alone, despite an eviction moratorium in place during the pandemic, Senex law has filed 3,891 unlawful detainers in Virginia. Thus, with only a handful of attorneys, Senex files almost 650 evictions per month, in an off year, considering the global public health crisis which necessitated a federal and state moratorium.”
8News is waiting to hear back from Senex. We reached out by phone and e-mail.
The LAJC said the ultimate goal of the lawsuit it to stop Senex from what they call deceptive practices. They are requesting a jury trial and are awaiting a response from the legal firm.
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