For Vir­ginia fam­ily fac­ing evic­tion, ‘It just snow­balls’

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - LOCAL PERSPECTIVES - BY ADELE UPHAUS-CONNER

WAR­REN­TON — Af­ter five months of search­ing, the only apart­ment Jes­sica and Chris Ep­pard could find for their fam­ily was a win­dow­less base­ment sub­let in War­ren­ton, 40 miles from where they work in the Fred­er­icks­burg area.

The rent for the twobed­room, one-bath­room space, where they moved with their two daugh­ters, Ri­ley, 6, and Sophia, 2, on March 1, is $1,000 a month.

The cou­ple’s monthly take-home pay from her job at Dol­lar Gen­eral in Ea­gle Vil­lage and his as a ma­chine op­er­a­tor is about $2,200 — mean­ing their rent eats up al­most half their monthly in­come.

Though their rent pay­ments are up to date and though they just paid their $100 share of the house’s elec­tric­ity bill — “There are no win­dows, so we have to have elec­tric­ity,” Jes­sica Ep­pard said — they will most likely have to leave this home at the end of the month be­cause the up­stairs ten­ants are be­ing evicted.

“I just found out from the lawyer that there’s noth­ing that I can do, even though we have paid our rent,” Ep­pard said. “I have no rights as a ten­ant be­cause ap­par­ently my lease was il­le­gal be­cause there were not the proper fire ex­its.

“More than likely my fam­ily will end up in a shel­ter,” she con­tin­ued. “We have nowhere to go.”

A study of evic­tions in the U.S. by Prince­ton Univer­sity’s Evic­tion Lab found that Vir­ginia has some of the high­est evic­tion rates in the coun­try.

The Ep­pards have a prior evic­tion on their record. That’s why the only lease they were able to ob­tain was a pri­vate, il­le­gal one.

Their evic­tion in 2012 from For­est Vil­lage apart­ments for un­paid rent re­sulted in a court-or­dered man­date to re­pay the amount owed plus re­lated court fees — close to $2,000, Ep­pard said.

The judg­ment is on their credit re­port and will be there for seven years, mean­ing most land­lords won’t rent to them.

Ep­pard, who grew up in Fred­er­icks­burg, said the 2012 evic­tion was the re­sult of her hours at Men’s Wear­house in Cen­tral Park be­ing cut from around 40 per week to close to 20.

“We just couldn’t af­ford the rent any­more,” she said.

By the time the court or­dered the evic­tion, they were two months be­hind in rent pay­ments.

“We did ex­pect some­thing to hap­pen,” she said. “But we were 19, we’d just had a baby. And the lan­guage — like ‘un­law­ful de­tainer’ — is hard to un­der­stand.”

They left the apart­ment the day be­fore the sher­iff’s of­fice came to change the locks and moved in with fam­ily in Char­lottesville.

They’ve strug­gled to find con­sis­tent, reli­able hous­ing since.

“When a ten­ant is evicted for what­ever rea­son, that is not pleas­ant, surely, but it has a rip­ple ef­fect that can some­times fol­low that ten­ant for a life­time, some­what sim­i­lar to the ef­fect of a crim­i­nal record, re­gard­less of whether that evic­tion was the fault of the ten­ant or not,” said Ann Kloeck­ner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Le­gal Aid Works.

Ep­pard said the only com­pany that will rent to them re­quires dou­ble or triple the se­cu­rity de­posit as a down pay­ment, which is im­pos­si­ble for them to scrape to­gether.

An evic­tion con­se­quence that many don’t know about, Kloeck­ner said, is that even if a ten­ant is evicted, he or she is still re­spon­si­ble for the lease. The land­lord can sue for an ad­di­tional one to three months of rent af­ter the evic­tion un­til the apart­ment is rented again. And this amount can be gar­nished from the ten­ant’s wages — up to 25 per­cent of the pay­check — un­til the debt is paid off.

“I want peo­ple to un­der­stand how bad it is when you get evicted,” she said. “More than likely, it just snow­balls and you can’t ever catch up.”

MIKE MORONES/THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Jes­sica Ep­pard poses with her two daugh­ters — Ri­ley, 6, and So­phie, 2 — at a park in Fred­er­icks­burg. Ep­pard and her hus­band have strug­gled to find hous­ing af­ter an evic­tion.

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