For Virginia family facing eviction, ‘It just snowballs’

June 9, 2018

WARRENTON, Va. (AP) — 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 two-bedroom, 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.”

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 off Fall Hill Avenue in Fredericksburg for unpaid rent resulted in a court-ordered mandate to repay the amount owed plus related court fees — close to $2,000, Eppard said.

This judgment is on their credit report and will be there for seven years. It means that most reputable landlords won’t rent to them.

“Our only option was a private rental,” Eppard said. “Everywhere else, you have to have no evictions on your record or the eviction has to be paid off. Or there is an income requirement.”

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.

If there are already not enough affordable housing options available to low-income renters — “And we know that in this area, there are not,” Kloeckner said — an eviction further restricts the pool of choices because many landlords refuse to rent to anyone with a prior eviction.

“Our only option is a private renter who doesn’t care (about the eviction),” Eppard said.

She said the only management 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.

Kloeckner said for tenants who are evicted from federally subsidized housing, another possible consequence is disqualification from the portable voucher program that would allow them to rent another subsidized unit.

Another 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.

The Eppards’ home search is made more complicated by the family’s dog, Pea, a hound/beagle mix that Jessica Eppard has had since she was 15. Pea is nine years old now and, though Eppard knows it might be easier to find a place to rent without her, she considers the dog part of the family.

“She was my first child,” Eppard said. “And she’s therapeutic — she will come up and just put her head on my shoulder and keep it there.”

Every time they move, there are additional costs associated.

“We have to pay for a storage unit if we can’t take all our stuff,” Eppard said. “We have to pay for a moving truck and someone to watch the baby.”

Though the Warrenton rental isn’t perfect, Eppard said her older daughter, Riley, has thrived in the public school system, where she’s nearing the end of her kindergarten year. Eppard said her daughter’s favorite moments this year were when the school held a fair and when farmers came to visit her classroom.

Eppard’s voice broke as she described telling Riley the family will probably have to move again.

“She’s really upset,” Eppard said. “Really upset.”

She said the family is on the wait list for an apartment in Academy Hill, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing building in Warrenton — but right now the 19 apartments there are all occupied.

“And Section 8 is closed — you can’t even apply,” Eppard said.

“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.”


Information from: The Free Lance-Star, http://www.fredericksburg.com/

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