Richmond tenants who are in court for housing-related issues now have an attorney dedicated to helping them resolve their cases. This week, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society opened the courthouse housing law outreach attorney office at John Marshall Court, where Richmond General District Court is housed.
Central Virginia Legal Aid Society was able to launch the pilot program with funding from the Virginia Poverty Law Center. It’s the result of increased attention on Richmond’s high eviction rate.
Marty Wegbreit, director of litigation at Central Virginia Legal Aid Society said one of the first cases the office handled this week involves a tenant who was sued for three months’ rent, even though a fire nearly destroyed the property and the tenant hadn’t been living there.
“Without the tenant having an attorney, you know what’s going to happen. The landlord is going to get a judgment,” Wegbreit said. “With an attorney, we can raise defenses. We can explore the landlord’s claim. And either win the case at trial or at least try to negotiate a settlement that people can live with.”
The office is open Monday-Friday from roughly 9-11 a.m. to advise to tenants and in some cases, represent them in court.
“This is basically a two-year program,” Wegbreit said. “We got a two-year grant to open this office and staff it and see how it works and whether this could be successful in providing more assistance to more tenants and reduce some of the evictions that we have in the city of Richmond.”
Central Virginia Legal Aid Society hired one new full-time attorney to fill the position.