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Virginia Tenants Sue Debt Collector

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TENANTS ALLEGE DECEPTIVE NOTICES AND HIGH FEES IN CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT

Charlottesville, Virginia, October 5, 2016 – Five tenants from Richmond, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg have filed a class-action lawsuit in the Charlottesville federal court against Senex Law, P.C., a debt collection firm hired by the plaintiffs’ and many other Virginia landlords. The plaintiffs, represented pro bono by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the law firm of MichieHamlett, allege that Senex uses deceptive practices to collect alleged delinquent rent and other fees from tenants, in violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Senex’s practices harm tenants through costly additional charges and for some, lengthy eviction records. The five plaintiffs have brought the case on behalf of a statewide class of tenants who suffered at the hands of Senex’s unlawful practices.

“Senex sells its system as an easy time-saver for landlords, but it’s anything but easy for tenants,” said Bryan Slaughter, MichieHamlett senior counsel. “Once they are behind on rent, the high extra fees charged by Senex make it difficult for our clients to ever get back on track.”

The suit alleges that Senex violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by sending notices purporting to come from landlords, but which were actually drafted and mailed by Senex. The notices do not contain federally-mandated language disclosing Senex’s identity as a debt collector, or describing the procedure that recipients can use to challenge their accuracy. This business practice hurts tenants, costs them substantial money, and puts them at unnecessary and repeated risk of eviction.

Senex then quickly files eviction actions in bulk, generating more costs to tenants and relying on sometimes outdated or inaccurate information from landlords. “This practice goes beyond a simple technical violation of the law. It has real costs to our clients, financial and otherwise, because it can ruin their rental record and their chances to find other housing in the future,” said Kim Rolla, Legal Aid Justice Center’s lead attorney on the case

“It’s been really hard for my family to keep up with all these extra charges,” said Teri Crawford, a named plaintiff in the class-action suit. “I just want stability, to keep a roof over my kids’ heads. I pay my rent. But it seems like every time we’re even a little late, we get hit with a bunch of fees.”

For More Information Contact:
Kim Rolla
Tel: 434-326-8545
Email: kim@justice4all.org

PDF Press Release

Complaint and Attachments:
Class Action Complaint
Exhibits to Complaint

Making Eviction a Last Resort

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In Partnership with LAJC and PHAR, CRHA Adopts Eviction Policy Changes

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Photo courtesy of PHAR

Charlottesville, Va., January 20, 2015 – After more than two years of vigorous campaigning by residents and advocates, on January 14 the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) formally adopted extensive amendments to its eviction policy. The newly adopted policy includes the majority of the changes championed by the Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) and Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC). Many of these changes had already been informally adopted by CRHA during the course of the campaign and resulted in a 91% decrease in evictions from 2011 to 2014. In a win-win, the policies – which clarify resident responsibilities and provide residents avenues to get back on track after periods of financial hardship – have also already led to increased rent collection by CRHA.

The new policy, among other things, clarifies that residents will be offered one-on-one meetings with housing authority staff prior to court action; repayment plans will be offered to all residents who fall behind on their rent but are otherwise complying with their lease; lease termination notices will contain a clear explanation of how to remedy the violation; and a summons to court can only be issued when the amount owed exceeds $50. On the whole, the new policy makes eviction a last resort.

This successful campaign began on September 11, 2012, when Ms. Seay, an elderly woman and long-term resident, was evicted from her CRHA apartment on South First Street, sparking a community protest. PHAR and LAJC realized a systemic approach was needed: a new binding eviction policy.

Throughout 2013 and 2014, PHAR organized community members to speak out at CRHA meetings and other public forums for changes to CRHA’s eviction policy. At PHAR’s request, CRHA placed a moratorium on evictions from September through November 2012, acknowledging that their eviction policy needed to be revisited. In January 2013, CRHA comprehensively amended its Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy but failed to revise the eviction policy. Frustrated, over 100 people marched in protest of recent evictions and in support of dignity for residents of public housing.

PHAR continued to meet with Commissioners, lobby for a new written policy, and raise awareness about the necessary changes that had yet to be made throughout 2013. As the year drew to a close and no policy changes were offered by CRHA, PHAR and LAJC worked together to draft their own version of a new eviction policy. Throughout the spring and summer of 2014, PHAR and LAJC met with CRHA Commissioners to discuss their policy proposal. After months of meetings, public dialogue on the issue, and sustained demands, in the fall CRHA staff held a series of highly productive meetings with PHAR and LAJC representatives. On January 14, 2015, the CRHA adopted almost all of PHAR’s and LAJC’s proposed changes to the housing authority’s eviction policy.

Over the past two years, PHAR’s sustained campaign succeeded not only in changing CRHA’s eviction policy, but also in making eviction a last resort in our community. PHAR, LAJC, and the Charlottesville public housing community at-large are pleased with the changes we were able to achieve in partnership with CRHA. We will stay vigilant to ensure the policies that drastically reduced evictions and are now formalized in CRHA’s eviction policy are respected.

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The Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) was founded in 1998 and has become one of the strongest and most well-known resident organizations in the country. PHAR is the recognized “resident advisory board (RAB)” for public housing in Charlottesville. PHAR is made up entirely by and for people living in public housing. We advocate and organize in our community for systemic changes and assist residents with improving their quality of life.

Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) provides legal representation for low-income individuals in Virginia. LAJC is PHAR’s general counsel.

Contact:

Brandon Collins, PHAR, 434-249-3312

Kim Rolla, LAJC, 434-529-1841

Plaintiffs Settle Fluvanna Prison Health Care Case

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November 26, 2014

The Legal Aid Justice Center announced that it had reached a settlement in our lawsuit on behalf of women incarcerated at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.  WileyRein and Washington Lawyers’ Committed are co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.  The lawsuit asserted that the 1200 women incarcerated at FCCW are being provided constitutionally inadequate medical care, leaving their health and lives at serious risk.  The settlement provides a framework for significant reforms of the medical care at FCCW.  The settlement also outlines a process by which the parties will jointly review and revise Department of Corrections policies regarding health care.  The settlement directs that the parties nominate a court-appointed monitor who will oversee the care provided at FCCW.  Because the case was certified as a class action, the settlement will need to be approved by the court at a subsequent hearing.

The settlement came in the wake of two sweeping opinions in favor of the Plaintiffs from the court—an order granting class certification and an order granting Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.

On November 25, 2014, the court issued an order granting Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and denying the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. In a powerful decision, the court ruled that that Department of Corrections may not delegate its constitutional obligation to provide adequate medical care by simply turning health care over to a subcontractor.

On November 20, 2014, the court issued a broad opinion granting class certification in the case, which means that any judgment in the case will apply to all 1200 women at the prison, not just the four named plaintiffs.

Nov. 25, 2014 – Memorandum Opinion Granting Plaintiffs’ Partial Motion for Summary Judgment and Denying Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment

Nov. 20, 2014 – Memorandum Opinion Granting Class Certification

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