Bipartisan-Backed McClellan/Bourne Bills Will End System That Effectively Prevents Indigent Tenants from Being Able to Appeal Their Evictions
Youngkin Amendments Would Create New System, Forcing Tenants to Pay Their Landlords in Order to Have the Right to an Appeal Hearing
RICHMOND, VA – Today, the Virginia General Assembly rejected proposed amendments by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s (D-Richmond) and Del. Jeffrey Bourne’s (D-Richmond) bills on eviction appeals.
The McClellan/Bourne bills – which passed with strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate – eliminate the requirement for indigent Virginians to pay appeal bonds in order to have their eviction cases heard, an unequal system that effectively prevents some Virginians from appealing a judge’s eviction ruling to be heard by a jury.
Gov. Youngkin’s amendments would have created a new system that forces indigent tenants to directly pay their landlords back rent, attorney fees and court costs, in order to have the right to an appeal in court.
“We passed this bill with bipartisan support to end an unequal system that prevents indigent tenants in Virginia from appealing their evictions to a jury of their peers,” Sen. McClellan said. “Governor Youngkin’s amendments would not only undo progress, they would worsen the current system by forcing tenants to pay the appeal bond amount directly to their landlords. I’m glad that the Senate and House rejected this damaging amendment that would worsen the eviction crisis and hand more power to landlords.”
“Everyone should have full access to our justice system, regardless of income,” Del. Bourne said. “Governor Youngkin’s amendments to HB614 and SB474 would have removed critical protections for low-income tenants in eviction cases. I’m grateful that both the House and Senate rejected the Governor’s amendments today.”
The original bills introduced by McClellan and Bourne would have removed the mandate that an indigent defendant pay a money bond into court to appeal an eviction judgment from the general district court to circuit court. This mandate effectively denies indigent tenants the right to appeal their eviction judgments.
Gov. Youngkin’s amendment would have required tenants to make payments of all back rent, attorney fees and court costs — the same amounts required as an appeal bond under current law — directly to the landlord in equal monthly installments over a period of six months or by the court date in circuit court, whichever is earlier. This would be implemented differently across jurisdictions since different jurisdictions have varying amounts of time that it takes to get to a circuit court trial. The Governor’s amendment would also enable landlords to have appeals dismissed without a hearing simply by filing a petition with the court alleging that the tenant has missed a payment.
“The Governor’s amendments do nothing to remove the financial barrier that keeps indigent tenants from being able to appeal eviction judgments to circuit court,” said Christie Marra, Director of Housing Advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. “Rather, the amendments make an unjust system more unjust, by requiring tenants to pay an amount equivalent to the appeal bond directly to the landlord rather than into the court, making the process less transparent. Having housing is essential to a person’s physical and emotional health, and providing equal access to justice for all regardless of their income is essential to our system of government. The Governor’s amendments make our already imperfect housing and justice systems even more inequitable.”
“People living in poverty already face high barriers to accessing justice in our courts simply because they do not have the money too often required to participate in the process,” said Amy Woolard, Director of Policy for the Legal Aid Justice Center. “SB474 and HB614 – as they passed the General Assembly during the Regular session – both ensured the Commonwealth did not continue to codify this kind of inequality by removing the requirement that certain indigent tenants pay an appeal bond up front while waiving such payment for others. We are pleased the General Assembly rejected an amendment that would have undermined access to justice for these tenants, and we call on Governor Youngkin to now sign the bills into law as they first came to his desk after passing on strong, bipartisan votes.”
McClellan’s and Bourne’s bills set a clear standard for determining whether a defendant is indigent in civil cases, bringing it in line with the definition for criminal cases. Virginia’s current law has been unclear, leading to significant confusion.
“The Virginia Code itself does not generally define indigent in the civil context nor specifically define ‘indigent’ in the context of court jurisdiction,” wrote Arlington attorney Steven A. Krieger in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy in 2020. “The definition of indigency seems to fluctuate depending on the statutory context.”