Public Housing Tenants Reach Settlement with RRHA

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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


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

Richmond, Va., July 11, 2018—
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney, Jr., of the Eastern District of Virginia Federal Court, approved a class action settlement between Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority and a group of tenants, valued at more than two and a half million dollars. The settlement and final order resolved a federal class action lawsuit challenging RRHA’s failure to properly set and implement tenant utility allowances.  A fairness hearing was held on July 10, 2018, and Judge Gibney signed the order shortly thereafter.  

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, $1,182,984.76 will be distributed among current and former Richmond public housing tenants who were subjected to RRHA’s utility surcharges from November 1, 2012, through October 31, 2016.  An additional $112,876.10 will be returned to tenants through implementation of new utility allowances. The new allowances will result in reduced charges to tenants of approximately $1.3 million over three years, thus bringing the total amount of cash and other relief for tenants to approximately $2.6 million.

The class action lawsuit, filed in February 2017, alleged that RRHA’s failure to properly set, implement, and charge electric utility allowances, resulted in unlawful excessive charges to current and former public housing tenants.  Federal law requires that public housing tenants not be charged more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. A class of plaintiffs, represented by lawyers at Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), and Thomas D. Domonoske of Consumer Litigation Associates, contended that these excessive charges increased tenants’ share of their housing costs, and caused tenants to pay more than allowed in violation of federal law, state law, and tenants’ leases.

In approving the settlement, Judge Gibney found that the relief to tenants and former tenants was fair, reasonable, and adequate.  During the fairness hearing, he commended the named plaintiffs in the action for their bravery in “standing up to city hall.”

In addition to monetary relief, under the terms of the settlement agreement Judge Gibney has approved, RRHA will:

  • Set and implement new, higher utility allowances that will stay in place for at least 3 years.
  • Create new notices, policies and procedures for elderly and disabled tenants needing additional electric usage due to their conditions.
  • Change its billing statements to give tenants more information about their utility surcharges.
  • Not bill to residents the Dominion “customer charge” unless HUD fails to reimburse RRHA for these charges at the same rate it reimburses RRHA for other operating costs.
  • Change its lease so that late fees and other non-rent charges are not treated as rent.
  • Change its lease so that it states whether a tenant has submetered utilities and list each tenant’s utility allowance.
  • Ensure RRHA staff is trained regarding utility billing procedures, tenant requests for relief from utility billing, and the grievance procedure for tenants to contest charges.
  • Use unclaimed refunds to create an energy efficiency fund for the benefit of RRHA public housing residents who need assistance maintaining energy efficient homes.

Shanta Miles, a named plaintiff in the case, said of the final settlement: “Unfair excess utility charges put so many families in a state of panic and helplessness.  Our efforts to get the housing authority to do the right thing was well worth the many years we put into it; and today we have insured that there will be better accountability between RRHA and tenants.” 

Sylvia Cosby Jones, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs, added: “This is a great day for the tenants and former tenants, who not only will be compensated for past unfair charges, but who will have a clearer and fairer process for bills going forward. We are pleased that RRHA worked hard with our clients to come to an agreement that satisfied all parties.”      

Final Order (pdf) 

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.

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