RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — As the state begins to open non-essential businesses, beginning May 18 the Virginia courts will ease some restrictions as well to include hearing non-emergency matters such as evictions.

Starting Monday, more than 800 eviction cases are scheduled throughout Virginia, and of that, about 240 of the cases are local to Hampton Roads jurisdictions. As a result of this high number, the Virginia Poverty Law Center is asking courts to wait on hearing eviction cases.

The VPLC says that eviction cases should pause until safety measures are in place in the courts, tenants are given more information on court operations and COVID-19 and the courts have identified how to apply federal laws to non-payment eviction cases.

While little information is publicly available on how these cases will be handled, the VPLC says:

“There is an unacceptably high risk of tenants losing their homes by default as many tenants will be barred from entry into courthouses under the Court’s May 6 judicial emergency order, and many tenants may feel attending court will put their health at risk.”

“Procedures for requesting remote hearings have also not been adequately communicated to tenants facing eviction. It is unconscionable that tenants must choose between their health and their homes when staying home is the best way to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said VPLC officials on Friday.

A statement released by the organization also says that select Virginia courts have declined the opportunity to hear non-emergency cases at this time including the Richmond City General Court, as Richmond is among the list of Virginia areas delaying Phase 1 reopening.

Additionally, there is a strong possibility that tenants may be wrongfully evicted for not paying rent even though the CARES Act Eviction Moratorium Section 4024 allows exceptions for non-payment on evictions filed after March 27.

Section 4024 specifically provides a temporary moratorium on eviction filings and other protections for tenants in certain rental properties with federal assistance or federally related financing.

“Determining which properties are ‘covered dwellings’ with respect to which non-payment evictions are prohibited is complicated, and tenants have few resources to find out if they live in a ‘covered dwelling,'” said the organization.

The Virginia Supreme Court has issued minimally to no guidance on applying and enforcing the CARES Act in Virginia Courts, according to VPLC officials.

“Nor has it issued any directives on how Virginia Courts are to apply a new law affording those who can prove they lost income as a result of the COVID-19 crisis a 60-day continuance in non-payment eviction cases. At minimum, that guidance should require landlords to prove their property is not a ‘covered dwelling’ and submit an affidavit that their property is not covered by the CARES Act.”

More information on how the Virginia Poverty Law Center is responding to COVID-19 can be found online.

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