HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Tenants at the Pointe at River City apartment complex in Henrico County are one step closer to learning what will happen with their respective living situations, after more than 100 renters were set for court hearings on Monday.
Attorneys for defendants and the plaintiff appeared in the Henrico General District Court before Chief Judge Lauren Caudill. While the circumstances surrounding each tenant’s case were unique, many of those in court faced issues with the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) — some waiting for pending payments, while others were working to get payments that were issued to the previous owner of the apartment complex transferred to new management, which took over earlier in 2022.
“This is a situation where we’ve got a landlord that brought hundreds of cases,” Legal Aid Justice Center Housing Attorney Louisa Rich said. “We found that this was a landlord that was receiving federal money, which put them into a special protection that applied to them where they had to actually send a different notice than is normally required for Virginia.”
However, during one of the hearings Monday morning, Judge Caudill said that she disagreed with the defense attorney’s analysis.
“What that really meant was that the landlord didn’t do the property procedure that they were supposed to follow, and so that’s what was being argued in court today,” Rich said. “Unfortunately, the judge overruled that motion and determined that the private landlord did have the right to go forward on evictions today.”
The Pointe at River City, previously known as 11 North, is now managed by AION Management. Although no one from the management office appeared in court on Monday, an attorney representing the company argued that RRP has wound down and that, with some tenants who were several months behind on rental payments, these arguments were just a way to delay payments even further.
But one defense attorney argued that the management company needed to provide tenants with at least a 30-day pay-or-quit notice. If, after 30 days, renters failed to pay the respective amounts they owed, the attorney noted that they would need to vacate, and if that was not done, then the management company could file an unlawful detainer, which is done to terminate a tenancy, pursuant to the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
“The argument today was really about, when does a notice for an eviction case need to be sent? So, normally, in order to get before a judge in court, before you even file an eviction case, you have to send a proper notice,” Rich said. “The Legal Aid attorneys actually contacted the private landlord when they realized that the notice was wrong, and then, what the private landlords did was, even though they had already filed the court case, they issued the notice after they had filed, and so today’s argument was all about can you correct that notice when it was wrong before you filed in court.”
Since June, 8News has been in touch with tenants whose housing is in jeopardy at the Pointe at River City apartments. One renter applied for RRP before the program stopped accepting new applications in mid-May, but was still waiting on payment to come through. Other tenants said they had applied for RRP and had money paid out, but that it was sent to the company managing the property at the time the application was filed, instead of AION Management, which manages the Henrico County apartment complex now.
“That prior landlord, if they get the check for rent relief, that’s not going to go to the landlord and that’s not going to correct a balance or stop an eviction from happening, and so we were dealing with a situation where the new landlord was not filling out their application or contacting rent relief,” Rich said. “We were dealing with rent relief applications being in limbo.”
An attorney representing the apartment complex in court on Monday said, in cases where this issue was raised, that his notes did not reflect the management company failing to fill out the proper paperwork or communicate with RRP.
“A lot of these tenants that showed up today applied [for RRP] back in May and haven’t received it because of this switch of ownership,” Rich said. “If Legal Aid had won the court argument today, all of these hundreds of cases could’ve been dismissed. So we’re really disappointed to know that a lot of these cases are going to result in an eviction judgment.”
8News spoke with one such tenant, who was ordered to pay his outstanding balance, with a 10-day period to appeal.
“The judge told me that if no new lease has been signed, then the old lease rolled over into the new apartment,” four-year tenant Emanuel Morgano said. “When we first moved there, we had a mold issue in the old apartment. We reported it, they came out to the apartment, they looked at it, and they said that it was not that serious.”
Morgano said that he and his parents ended up relocating to a different unit in Sept. 2021 at the end of their lease, staying within the apartment complex. However, he said that they immediately noticed cockroaches and other issues in the new unit, and refused to sign a new lease until the problems were addressed.
“We’re not locking ourselves into this, so we’re not going to pay anything until we can get into a new place,” Morgano said. “Then, they brought us to court, after they. They knew that they was not going to help us out.”
Morgano said that he was looking move into yet another unit, while staying at the same apartment complex, after his RRP payment was reportedly accepted. But, still having not signed a lease, tensions continued to mount, including Morgano’s parents not being specifically named as tenants on the lease.
“We wanted to go into the new lease properly,” he said. “That case got dismissed.”
On Monday, Judge Caudill stated that payments were stilled owed to the Pointe at River City for the months during which Morgano and his parents lived in one of the complex’s units without a new lease, and without putting forth money for rent. But Morgano argued that because there was not a mutually signed lease agreement, he and his parents were not bound to pay a set amount. He also stated that the management company was neglectful in responding to maintenance requests.
Morgano told 8News that he lost his job in March, and has been unable to put down payments for a new apartment at a different complex. But he said that he and his family were paying utilities for use of the apartment.
“She said, legally, if you’re sitting, if you’re in a place, then you’re legally binded to pay the rent,” Morgano said of the judge’s ruling.
According to Virginia Legal Aid, an individual with no written lease may pay rent by the month. But that would also mean the tenancy could be terminated by either the renter or the landlord for any reason, or no reason at all, by giving at least 30 days written notice before the next rental due day. For individuals who pay rent on a weekly basis, then it would be seven days notice.
Without a signed lease, Morgano’s case differed from many of the other tenants in court Monday who had valid rental agreements with the Pointe at River City. However, Rich stated that there were renters who were not permitted to re-sign because they had minimal outstanding balances.
“A lot of tenants have not been allowed to renew their lease just because they had a balance,” she said. “That balance could be as low as $100, $200, but once they don’t renew their lease, this landlord in particular is putting them on a month-to-month lease, which is then applying a month-to-month rate.”
One tenant said she and her partner had that issue attempting to resign their lease in the midst of the management company transfer. As such, she said they were paying month-to-month, with a premium fee of nearly $500 more. But the tenant claimed RRP was not covering the difference between the initially signed one-year lease and the newer month-to-month terms. Her case was continued.
In other related hearings Monday, the individuals involved came to an agreement on a payment plan to handle the outstanding balance for rent, especially in cases were a tenant had recently paid off a significant portion of the money owed to the apartment complex. In other instances where defendants noted that their RRP applications had been approved and payment was forthcoming, the judge continued the cases to allow more time for those payments to come in.
8News reached out to a spokesperson for the management company of the Pointe at River City apartments, but is awaiting a response. Below is the statement that was received after initial reports of tenant concerns in June:
We can confirm that some residents have received legal notices from the landlord/tenant court to appear regarding their outstanding balances. To clarify, they are not eviction notices. This procedure is in accordance with Virginia’s landlord/tenant law. We are aware that rent relief programs are currently experiencing backlogs and other challenges. We encourage residents to contact Gov2Go directly for a status update on their application and to contact our management team to discuss additional short-term solutions.
Additional hearings are set for later in August, while those that were continued Monday have been scheduled between mid-August and early September.