RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia’s highest court has placed a new moratorium on evictions in the Commonwealth, but some local leaders say more must be done to protect vulnerable residents.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced Friday afternoon the Supreme Court of Virginia had decided to reinstate a moratorium on evictions between Aug.10 and Sept. 7. Under the order, the issuance of writs of evictions, or the documents delivered to tenants that order them to vacate their properties, will be suspended in Virginia.
However, the order will only apply to evictions that are related to a tenant’s failure to pay rent.
The supreme court had previously decided to ban evictions in Virginia, at the request of Gov. Ralph Northam, through June 28. After that ban expired, Northam once again requested the supreme court halt the eviction process.
“As the ongoing Congressional stalemate leaves Virginians without federal housing protection, this is a critical step towards keeping families safely in their homes,” Northam tweeted.
After the eviction moratorium for residents in federally subsidized housing expired in late July, Northam also established a rent and mortgage assistance program for low-income Virginians.
Jon Liss, executive director of the statewide organizing group New Virginia Majority, said the new moratorium was an important victory in an ongoing war.
He said the action gives the Virginia state legislature the time it needs to come up with an even better solution to help families later this August.
“There's a lot of different groups from around the state that are putting pressure on their elected officials, and the governor, to act,” he said.
Liss said he would like to see the moratorium extended into next year and more from the federal CARES Act set aside to help with rent subsidies.
He said Virginia is facing a crisis when it comes to evictions.
“The most important payment people think of, often before food and medicine and school and transportation, is to pay rent,” he said. “And, so, a number of the tenants we work with that borrowed money from friends and family have gone underneath the proverbial mattress to pay the bills, but the cupboards are running bare.”
Alexandria Resident Sami Bourma organized a rent strike after he said the managers at the Southern Towers apartment complex moved to have him evicted.
Bourma, who worked as an Uber driver and chef before the pandemic, worries his family could end up homeless.
“Who is suffering?” he asked. “People like us who are working two or three jobs to be able to survive with their kids.”
But, Bourma said he feared the Virginia supreme court’s latest order was just another example of officials kicking the can down the road.
“The problem is people do not have jobs,” he said. “That’s why we can’t afford to pay the rent.”
Bourma said he believes leaders should enact a bailout program to better address the problem at hand.
“Until the country starts getting better, the city starts getting better, or people start going back to work,” he said.
According to Liss, 3,000 Virginians have been evicted between now and the time the Commonwealth’s first eviction ban expired.
He said the state legislature must act now.
“The tenants’ lives are living and hanging in the balance,” he said.
The Legal Justice Aid Center in Falls Church tweeted the supreme court's latest eviction ban appears to ban new evictions related to unpaid rent. The organization cautioned to Virginians that their old eviction cases may still go forward if they have court hearings scheduled.
On Friday, President Donald Trump floated to the press corps that he may sign an executive order to establish another federal ban on evictions. However, the specific details behind his plan remain unclear.