Senate Passes McClellan’s Bill to Provide All Virginians the Right to Appeal Evictions

Bill Would End Appeals Bond Requirement for Indigent People in Eviction Cases

RICHMOND, VA – Today, the Virginia Senate passed Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s (D-Richmond) bill (SB 474), removing the requirement that indigent Virginians pay appeal bonds in order to have their eviction cases heard. The bill passed on a 23-17 vote.

Under current Virginia law, eviction appeals are one of a handful of exceptions in which indigent people must post an appeal bond to have their case heard in circuit court. Appeal bonds in eviction cases can be considerably high, costing anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars. This effectively prevents most indigent individuals from appealing their cases and staying in their homes. Due to the lack of appeals, any mistakes made by general district court judges often fly under the radar and are left uncorrected. 

Sen. McClellan’s bill removes the requirement for an indigent defendant in civil actions to post an appeal bond in any eviction or other civil case appealed from the general district court.

“Every Virginian deserves equal access to our court system, regardless of their income,” Sen. McClellan said. “But under current Virginia law, indigent people effectively cannot appeal their evictions due to the expensive appeal bond requirement. This bill will remove an obstacle to justice, and allow Virginians to stay in their homes during their eviction appeals. I’m pleased to see it pass in a bipartisan manner and look forward to passing it through the House.”

“Our justice system only works if all Virginians have equal access to the courts, including equal opportunities to appeal judicial decisions they believe to be incorrect,” said Christie Marra, Director of Housing Advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. “Yet for over a decade, low-income tenants have effectively been denied the opportunity to appeal judicial decisions in nonpayment eviction cases because the law required them to post bond with money they did not have. Senator McClellan’s SB474 remedies this injustice by allowing low-income tenants to appeal without posting bond, and thereby providing these low-income tenants the same access to our justice system that higher-income tenants have enjoyed all along.”

“We applaud the Senate’s passage of SB474, which finally places all low-income tenants on the same footing as other Virginians and offers them the ability to have their eviction judgments reviewed on appeal in Circuit Court, just like everybody else,” said Victoria Horrock, Senior Supervising Attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center. “This bill is a critical step forward in fulfilling the Constitutional guarantees of fairness and due process for all, and the promise of true access to justice for low-income Virginians–especially when basic needs like shelter are at stake.”

McClellan’s bill also sets 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 lawyer 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.”

While this legislation will allow people the chance to appeal their eviction on the basis of nonpayment, it will not change the requirement that tenants pay ongoing rent while an appeal is pending, and it will not prevent landlords from adding a claim for additional unpaid rent to the issues decided upon by the circuit court on appeal.

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