For Virginia family facing eviction, ‘It just snowballs’
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.”
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.