Archive for the ‘Consumer’ Category

Virginia Tenants Sue Debt Collector

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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Senex then quickly files eviction actions in bulk, generating more costs to tenants and relying on sometimes outdated or inaccurate information from landlords.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 Wyatt 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:
Wyatt Rolla
Tel: 434-326-8545

PDF Press Release

Complaint and Attachments:
Class Action Complaint
Exhibits to Complaint

New Report on Court Debt Collection Practices

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Driven Deeper into Debt: Unrealistic Repayment Options Hurt Low-Income Court Debtors

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 8.05.39 AMThe majority of Virginia General District Courts have either disregarded or fallen significantly short of recommendations issued last summer by the Judicial Council of Virginia, the state’s top judicial policy making body, aimed at helping low-income residents pay off court fines and costs, according to an analysis released today by the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC).

As a result, hundreds of thousands of low-income residents have their driver’s licenses suspended when they are unable to cover court costs. For many drivers that means giving up their only mode of transportation to work and forcing them to choose between losing their jobs and risking incarceration for driving illegally.

LAJC calls on Virginia courts to do
much more to ensure that state residents who are unable to pay their court debts aren’t trapped by ill-conceived payment policies that are unrealistic and counter-productive.  It also notes that indigent Virginians should receive extra consideration, such as foregoing driver’s license suspension when poverty precludes payment. “These individuals should be afforded a way to maintain licenses, and their livelihood, despite their poverty,” the analysis states.

Full Report (PDF)

Full Press Release (PDF)

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Lawsuit Challenges “Habitual Drunkard” Law

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Federal Class Action Challenges Antiquated Virginia “Habitual Drunkard” Law That Jails Homeless Individuals

The Legal Aid Justice Center and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s “habitual drunkard” statute, to the extent it criminalizes the possession or consumption of alcohol by homeless alcoholics.

The complaint asserts that Commonwealth’s Attorneys Offices across Virginia have used the state’s outdated “habitual drunkard” statute, or Interdiction Statute (Va. Code § 4.1-322), to repeatedly incarcerate homeless individuals, violating their constitutional rights by punishing homeless alcoholics for having the disease of alcoholism. It also violates their right to due process by criminalizing the possession or consumption of alcohol – an otherwise lawful activity – without required constitutional protections. The complaint also challenges the statute as unconstitutionally vague because it fails to define “habitual drunkard” and encourages arbitrary police enforcement.

Full Complaint (PDF)
Press Release (PDF)
Fact Sheet (PDF)

Media Coverage
Charlottesville Group Challenging ‘Habitual Drunkard’ Law (WVIR-TV NBC29, 3/3/16)
Challenging a State Law that Jails Alcoholics (WVTR-Radio IQ, 3/3/16)
LAJC Challenges Habitual Drunkard Statute (CBS19 Newsplex, 3/3/16)
Lawsuit Seeks to End Jail Time for the Homeless (Roanoke Times, 3/3/16)
Lawsuit: Officials Use Statute to Punish Homeless Alcoholics (The Virginia-Pilot, 3/4/16)
Attorneys File Class-Action Lawsuit Against Virginia’s ‘Habitual Drunkard’ Laws (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/6/16)

Legal Battle Against Zombie Debt Collectors

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On March 27, 2014, we filed a lawsuit, Leoncio Paz v. Midland Funding, in Fairfax County. Our complaint alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) based on Midland’s direct falsehoods and false implications in its attempt to obtain a default judgment against Mr. Paz. Midland withdrew their collection attempt when we stepped up to represent Mr. Paz, but we sued them for damages based on their deceitful business practice.

Our goal is to make the exploitative zombie debt collection business model too expensive to be profitable, thus forcing the debt collection companies to abandon their practice of suing low-income people without the means to prove their case. “Zombie debt” refers to debt that third-party debt collection companies’ attempts to collect despite either it being barred by statute of limitations or the companies lack proof that they have a legal right to collect on it.

News Coverage
Taking on the Country’s Biggest Debt Buyer, Midland Funding (Washington Post, 5/9/14)

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