The West Virginia Attorney General is sending warning letters to landlords who are threatening to evict tenants left scrambling to pay bills during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement comes after a stay at home order issued by Gov. Jim Justice left several thousands of state residents out of work with their employers closing down businesses.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Thursday state law prohibits unfair or deceptive conduct and has strict laws in place to protect tenants from such unjust evictions.
“Many workers understandably have deep concerns about keeping a roof over their families’ heads,” he said. “I get that landlords and property managers have a bottom line, but in this crisis, we must unite and work with one another. Now is neither the time nor the place to play on people’s fears with threats of eviction. To do so is frankly unconscionable.”
Although there is no law preventing evictions during a state of emergency, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia issued last week a stay in all but emergency cases within the state court system. Morrisey said most eviction proceedings would not fall under the hearings allowed.
Morrisey said laws are in place to provide due process and protect tenants from unfair evictions. Those laws require property owners to file a petition for eviction in magistrate or circuit court regarding nonpayment or violation of the lease.
A landlord cannot evict or lock a tenant out of the home, shut off utilities or do other things to evict a tenant without doing so. A tenant must be served with notice of a court hearing and has the right to contest any eviction.
A tenant’s removal can only come with a judgement from the court, which will include a date and time by which they must vacate the property, along with the amount of debt owed by the tenant, with a deadline for payment.
If the case is decided in magistrate court, it can be appealed to the circuit court.
Any tenant receiving such letters or threats from a landlord can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-368-8808.