HOPEWELL, Va. (WRIC) — From June 2014 to September 2018, tenants of the Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority were charged high utility surcharges after their utility allowances were not properly set. Following a class action lawsuit against the HRHA. those tenants have been awarded $220,000 and a waiver for certain charges.
According to the Legal Aid Justice Center, a group of tenants won the lawsuit — filed in April 2019 — against the housing authority on Monday. U.S. District Judge Hannah M. Lauck of the Eastern District of Virginia Federal Court approved the settlement.
“Improperly implemented utility allowances are a common problem for public housing. As we reach the conclusion of this case, we will have been able to bring relief to public housing tenants across of Central Virginia, having previously addressed the matter with the other housing authorities as well,” said Sylvia Jones, a Legal Aid Justice Center attorney for the plaintiff tenants.
The settlement will be distributed among the involved tenants who were overcharged for utilities. In addition to the payment, tenants also had some of their gas and electric charges waived while the lawsuit was underway. A release from LAJC, says this saved them about $95,000. The lawsuit also negotiated a higher gas and electric allowance for the tenants, LAJC estimates this will save them $144,000 over the first three years.
According to federal law, people living in public housing should not be charged over 30% of their income for rent and utilities. In order to keep monthly bills under that income percentage tenants are given utility allowances to cover their fees. Tenants at HRHA had not been given the correct allowances and were overcharged.
“I brought this issue to the Legal Aid Justice Center over five years ago and I am glad we are finally getting justice,” said Dorothy Flowers, a plaintiff and former HRHA resident in a LAJC release.
Another former tenant quoted in the release, Natasha Brown, says the bills shouldn’t be so complicated that people need help understanding them.
“The old bills were nearly impossible to figure out and it led to my paying money I didn’t owe,” Brown said. “I am glad that no one will have to deal with that in the future.”
With the approval of the lawsuit, the HRHA will also be required to provide more notices and details about utilities to tenant. This will involve changes to notices, policies, billing statements and leases. HRHA will also be required to suspend years worth of gas and electricity charges.