Divided Virginia Supreme Court renews eviction moratorium

(Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

A divided Virginia Supreme Court renewed an eviction moratorium sought by Gov. Ralph Northam, with a four-justice majority issuing an order Friday barring courts from issuing writs of eviction for non-payment of rent until Sept. 7.

The majority wrote that the coronavirus pandemic continues to qualify as a disaster under state code that allows the court to issue emergency judicial order.

“The ease with which the COVID-19 virus can spread, the risks associated with traveling to and appearing in the courthouse for those acting pro se with certain health conditions that disproportionately afflict the economically disadvantaged, and the inability of many citizens to access the courts remotely or to hire lawyers who can argue on their behalf, may ‘substantially endanger’ or ‘impede’ the ‘ability of [tenants] to avail themselves of the court.’”

Three justices, including Chief Justice Don Lemons, opposed halting evictions, writing that “there is not a person on this court who does not share a deep concern for people in these circumstances,” but that “the solution properly lies with the legislative branch and its responsibility to provide sufficient appropriations to fund rent relief efforts and with the executive branch to effectively administer such programs.”

Northam had requested the extension until Sept. 7 to give the General Assembly time to pursue legislation addressing the issue during a special session scheduled to begin Aug. 18.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the nature of the eviction moratorium. It directs courts to temporarily stop issuing writs of eviction, but does not halt eviction hearings.