Settlement Reached in RVA Utilities Class Action

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:

Sylvia Cosby Jones, Esq., Managing Attorney
Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7305 | sylvia@justice4all.org

James Bowling, Esq., St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP
Counsel for the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority
434-296-7138 | jmb@stlawva.com

JOINT PRESS RELEASE:

PUBLIC HOUSING TENANTS REACH SETTLEMENT WITH RICHMOND REDEVELOPMENT AND HOUSING AUTHORITY ON CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

 Richmond, Va., February 6, 2018—

Public housing tenants and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) have reached a proposed settlement in a federal class action lawsuit challenging RRHA’s implementation of tenant utility allowances. 

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, $951,835.45 will be distributed among current and former Richmond public housing tenants who were impacted by RRHA’s utility surcharges from November 1, 2012, through October 31, 2016.  An additional $79,590.23 will be returned to tenants through implementation of new utility allowances. Cenquetta Harris, a named plaintiff in the case, said of the proposed settlement: “As tenants, we work hard to try to pay our bills, but our utility bills were too high. This settlement shows that when we band together to stand up for ourselves, we can make sure that everyone is treated fairly.”  RRHA Interim Chief Executive Officer Orlando Artze said, “We are pleased to have worked constructively with the plaintiffs over the past several years to resolve this complex dispute so that RRHA can continue to focus on meeting the needs of residents in our public housing communities.”

The class action lawsuit, filed in February 2017, alleges that RRHA’s failure to properly set, implement, and charge electric utility allowances, resulted in excessive charges to current and former public housing tenants.  A proposed class of plaintiffs, represented by lawyers at Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), and Thomas D. Domonoske, Consumer Litigation Associates, contend that these excessive charges increased tenants’ share of their housing costs, and caused tenants to pay more than allowed.

While RRHA denies any wrongdoing, the parties have agreed to the proposed settlement in order to avoid the uncertainty and expense associated with continued litigation, and believe that the proposed settlement agreement is in the best interest of RRHA and all impacted public housing tenants.  “RRHA is glad to have reached an amicable result with the tenant plaintiffs in this case, which promotes RRHA’s goal of transparency and fairness while providing affordable housing to Richmond residents,” said Artze.  “It is important to note that RRHA did not benefit financially from the billing of utility charges to residents.  In fact, the administrative requirements of the utility surcharge system and insufficient HUD subsidy result in RRHA’s provision of electric utility service to residents at a financial loss to the agency.”  Similar settlements have been reached with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority as well as the Petersburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

The proposed settlement, filed today, must be approved by Federal District Court Judge John A. Gibney, Jr. before it is final.  In addition to monetary relief, RRHA will make changes in its lease as well as in certain policies and practices, including:

  • Setting and implementing new, higher utility allowances that will stay in place for at least 3 years.
  • Creating new notices, policies and procedures for elderly and disabled tenants needing additional electric usage due to their conditions.
  • Changing its billing statements to give tenants more information about their utility surcharges.
  • Ensuring RRHA staff is trained regarding utility billing procedures, tenant requests for relief from utility billing, and the grievance procedure.

“The settlement is the result of hard work by both parties, and we are very pleased that in addition to relief for past charges, our clients will be billed fairly and in compliance with HUD rules going forward,” said Sylvia Jones, attorney for the plaintiff tenants.  Interim CEO Orlando Artze also noted that he is pleased that any unclaimed refunds will be used to create an energy efficiency fund for the benefit of RRHA public housing residents.   

Documents:

Settlement Agreement (PDF) 

Joint Motion for Class Certification and Preliminary Approval (PDF)

Memo in Support of Joint Motion (PDF)

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About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), representing Plaintiffs in this case, fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.

About Thomas D. Domonoske
Mr. Domonoske, representing the Plaintiffs in this case, is of counsel with Consumer Litigation Associates.  His primary emphasis is on using the civil justice system to remedy credit-related frauds, including predatory lending, debt collection, and credit reporting.  He has published many articles on several aspects of consumer law in various professional publications.  In the past seventeen years he has given over 140 consumer law trainings at various events around the country and regularly trains JAG lawyers for the United States military.  He has served as a member of the Harrisonburg City School Board and also on the Board of Directors of the Fairfield Center and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

About the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA)                            
A locally administered, and federally funded housing authority, RRHA provides real estate development, rental housing assistance, and property management of public housing communities for low and moderate-income families throughout the City of Richmond.

About St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP
St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP, representing RRHA in this case, is a litigation firm that has past experience in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 public housing litigation and represents clients in Virginia state and federal courts in matters including civil rights law, business law, eminent domain, criminal defense, college and university disciplinary proceedings, government representation, estate planning and real estate matters.