UPDATE: A Lynchburg judge has issued a temporary injunction against the owners of James Crossing apartments, who had sought to terminate leases of some tenants effective today. The judge said leases can’t be terminated for 90 days or until a tenant’s current lease expires. The problem arose last month after an apartment building was condemned when wastewater entered a unit through the bathroom ceiling. Legal Aid attorneys said most tenants have moved back into the building. For those whose units are uninhabitable, the judge ordered James Crossing to find them alternate housing for at least 90 days.
EARLIER: LYNCHBURG, Oct. 13, 2022 – Virginia Legal Aid Society has filed a lawsuit to prevent the owners of James Crossing apartments from terminating leases with some tenants who had been living in a building in disrepair. A Circuit Court Judge has scheduled a hearing on the potential lease termination for 2 p.m. Friday.
Tenants, city government officials and members of homeless advocacy organizations are expected to attend the hearing.
Without the injunction VLAS seeks, tenants are facing the termination of their leases on Monday. Many of them have no alternative housing available.
VLAS represents eight tenants, all of whom lived in James Crossing Building 828, one of the complex’s many buildings. The apartment complex, subsidized by the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development, has been plagued by a history of maintenance issues. Residents have complained of mold, roaches, broken ceilings and other problems. Those issues have taken a dramatic turn over the past month.
On Sept. 11, the Lynchburg Fire Department declared Building 828 unfit for habitation after waste water entered a unit through the bathroom ceiling. Electricity and water service were turned off. Two days later, apartment owner Waters at James Crossing issued lease termination notices to all Building 828 tenants, moving them into temporary housing in local hotels.
On Sept. 14, city inspectors informed Waters at James Crossing that tenants could return to some of the units in Building 828 and that the remaining needed repairs did not have to be completed before the tenants could return to their apartments. Nevertheless, according to VLAS’s complaint, on Sept. 29, the company issued additional lease termination notices, saying the leases would end Oct. 17.
According to the complaint, despite the company’s promise to provide temporary housing for the tenants through Oct. 17, residents were forced to check out Oct. 7 and again on Oct. 11, when the tenants did not have reservations for another hotel. Several wound up spending the night of Oct. 11 in their cars.
“We’re in the streets now,” one of the tenants told the television station WSET. “We got babies in the streets. It’s not right.”
The VLAS complaint states, “Defendant refuses to repair the Property and refuses to comply with its contractual obligations under state and federal law, preferring instead to terminate leases, render families homeless, and shift responsibility onto the rest of the community.”
VLAS is asking the court to:
- Order Waters at James Crossing to halt the lease terminations.
- Declare that the termination notices are legally insufficient to terminate the leases.
- Declare that the company has an obligation to continue to provide comparable housing to the tenants while their apartments are being repaired, pursuant to their leases and HUD requirements.
- Order Waters at James Crossing to make the repairs necessary to make the apartments safe and sanitary.
- Order Waters at James Crossing to provide comparable accommodations until all necessary repairs are complete and the tenants can move back into their apartments.
- Order Waters at James Crossing to abate the rent under the repairs are completed.
- Award $20,000 in damages to each tenant, along with payments to compensate for costs, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and other relief the court deems appropriate.
Virginia Legal Aid Society is a nonprofit law firm that provides legal information, advice and representation in civil cases to low-income individuals and families. Since 1977, VLAS has been the only institutional provider of such services in Central, Southside, and Western Tidewater Virginia. VLAS attorneys and paralegals use legal skills to solve problems in housing, access to health care, income and public benefits, family issues, consumer lending and assets. Our mission is to resolve serious legal problems of vulnerable people, promote economic and family stability, reduce poverty through effective legal assistance, and to champion equal justice. See vlas.org for more.