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Richmond Judge Dismisses 31 RRHA Eviction Cases

Richmond General District Court
(Photo: "Jury Duty Today" by super-structure is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

A Richmond General District Court judge dismissed every eviction case on the docket for Fairfield Court on Thursday. 

Judge Claire Cardwell said the public housing authority improperly filed legal documents. RRHA presented the court with photocopies of the unlawful detainers and other documents instead of the original documents. Another error was that the housing agency’s eviction filings didn’t list a specific time period for when residents were said to be in default of their rents. 

Palmer Heenan is an attorney with the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. He was representing a client in the courtroom when he said Judge Cardwell dismissed the 31 cases.

“Many RRHA tenants have lived there for years and years if not decades. Without knowing the exact time period that you’re being told you didn’t pay rent for — it’s hard to formulate a defense,” Heenan said. 

However, Heenan said that the judge’s dismissals of the cases doesn’t clear all tenants of any legal obligations to the housing authority. 

“If they owe rent they would still have to pay it, and RRHA is entitled to refile if they choose,” Heenan said. “If a tenant has a question as to whether or not they owe rent, or how much they owe, then they should reach out to their local legal aid.”

Heenan said resources available to residents include: the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, the Legal Aid Justice Center and the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s Eviction Legal Helpline. He said legal aid organizations have urged the housing authority to ensure all accounts are up to date before taking legal action against tenants.

“Filing an unlawful detainer against someone is a serious step,” Heenan said. “It has long term ramifications for years on a person’s credit.”

RRHA is among the highest monthly evictors in the city, according to Heenan. Last week, the court heard 52 eviction cases for Creighton Court — 35 of which were granted. 

As of last week, RRHA agreed to participate in the city’s new eviction diversion program. As part of the program, volunteer lawyers will act as mediators to negotiate agreements between tenants and landlords, like setting up payment schedules to help residents meet their rent requirements on time. 

The housing agency’s CEO Damon Duncan did not respond to VPM’s request for comment.