HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Renters in more than 230 units in Henrico County are facing eviction from the Pointe at River City apartment complex, with many of the impacted individuals scheduled for court cases this week.
On Monday, there was a large eviction docket with more than 100 warrants set for Henrico General District Court. However, many renters showed up only to find out that their cases were being continued, pushing back the next steps in learning whether they would be able to stay in their respective units or face eviction.
“There’s a huge number of eviction cases on the docket today,” Housing Attorney Laura Dobbs with the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) said. “This is a property that was purchased back in January using the federally backed mortgage, and yet, in the transfer of this property, the new property owner failed to apply for rent relief on behalf of tenants, failed to submit the paperwork even where tenants themselves applied, and then, they waited out the clock for the rent relief application process to close before sending out notice to tenants.”
The Pointe at River City, now managed by Philadelphia-based AION Management, was previously known as 11 North because of its location on North Laburnum Avenue. Counsel for the property was in court Monday morning, but said “no comment” when asked about the ongoing cases.
Selene Avent, a nearly three-year resident of the Henrico County apartment complex, is set to have her case heard on Friday, alongside dozens of other renters.
“The same month that I got the apartment, I lost my job, like, right after the beginning of the pandemic. I did get another job,” she said. “But right after that, VCU [Medical Center] found a tumor on my right kidney, so around the same time that I was applying for the rent relief program, I found out that I had the tumor.”
Avent, a cancer survivor, was concerned that the cancer had returned. After undergoing surgery in April, she found out that was not the case. But she told 8News that the surgery still prevented her from working for several weeks while she recovered, causing her to fall behind on her rental payments. Avent said she applied for rent relief in January to assist, but has been waiting on funds to be paid out to the property where she lives.
“I called rent relief to see if there was anything they could do to escalate the payment going out to my [leasing] office to keep me from being evicted,” she said. “They advised that they’re processing applications as fast as they can; that I am approved and all I could do was basically wait for the funding to come through.”
However, Avent said that last month, she received a summons for unlawful detainer. In other words, she was given notice that she either had to pay the more than $4,000 she owed in rent or be evicted. The notice is dated June 10, 2022. But Avent said that she did not receive it until roughly a week later.
“One of the major misconceptions was just that the website for rent relief is closed for people to apply for a new application,” she said. “But the program itself is not closed. So if you were already approved and you already had money pending, the money is still coming.”
Sunday night, Avent received a government email regarding her rent relief application. It stated that the payment for her case was processing and would be available within three business days.
“I think it’s a complete mess,” Dobbs said. “I think that the transferred ownership has caused some confusion. It’s unclear whether the new owner also purchased any outstanding debt from the previous owner and would be entitled to any money the tenant owed to the previous owner, and, additionally, the new owner has to be the one attached to that rent relief application to actually receive the money because the former owner would no longer have a right to those funds.”
Avent said that she is understanding of the humanity involved in both the landlord and renters’ parts, but is concerned about losing the place she has called home for a number of years.
“A couple of months’ rent is not a lot of money. But it’s enough to land a person homeless, and that’s a terrible situation when you have the pending funds for that situation and everybody’s just not in communication about where that money is, if people are going to wait for that money,” she said. “The rent relief department, they don’t send out a notification to the landlord until a payment is actually dispatched. So all the time that an application is just pending, there’s no communication.”
Earlier this year, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DBHCD) announced it would accept new submissions for rent relief until 11:59 p.m. on May 15, at the time, having received more than $1 billion in finding and having processed and disbursed over $713 million in 141,330 rent relief payments, according to a release.
“They still have money. So if there is any pending applications, those tenants could potentially still receive relief,” Dobbs said. “Starting July 1, landlords will no longer be required to apply on the tenant’s behalf […] but that does not mean that rent relief will have run out of money at that point.”
As for Avent, she said that she is hopeful her payment will process in time, and that she can continue to work to afford her housing.
“I don’t want to take away from the humanity of it all; the fact that every landlord is a person, too. They have bills and responsibilities, stuff like that, too. I get it,” she said. “There’s always going to be struggles in life. But we just got to keep pushing, and it’ll be alright.”
According to VPLC, approximately 60 additional cases are scheduled for Thursday, and about 50 are scheduled for Friday.
“It sounds like the property management, at this point, has made no effort to work with tenants who have been impacted by COVID, who have been unable to work and recover from this pandemic,” Dobbs said. “If they get evicted, where are they going to go? If all of those cases today, all 110 people, had been evicted, they’d end up in a homeless services program, which doesn’t have enough beds, and it is better for society is we reach out to our neighbors, work with these property managers to keep them in the property, work with rent relief to get that debt paid and help them stay housed because it is a cost on all of us, and just the emotional and physical harm that comes with getting evicted, the trauma with being evicted.”