Three Virginia residents are filing a class action lawsuit on behalf of tenants across the Commonwealth against the firm Senex Law, alleging abusive and unfair debt collection practices in violation of federal law.
Representing the tenants are attorneys from the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), Legal Aid Society of Roanoke Valley and Charlottesville law firm MichieHamlett.
The plaintiffs, Jennifer Lord, Ebony Reddicks, and Toniraye Moss, are bringing their claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and are requesting the Court to reward compensatory damages including actual damages, class-wide statutory damages, injunctive relief against continued predatory debt collection practices, and payment of their attorneys’ fees and costs, according to the complaint.
The complaint argues that the firm directly sends letters to tenants intentionally designed to look as if they are from the landlord or property manager, and not from a debt collector like Senex. The letters say the landlord has retained counsel for delinquency and demands that tenants pay attorney’s fees as well as any unpaid rent or late fees.
Senex then sends out hundreds or thousands of unlawful detainer suits in courts across Virginia again adding their own attorney fees without significant involvement from lawyers or review of the claim, according to the complaint.
In a statement published online announcing the lawsuit, the tenant’s attorneys said the firm’s practices “are abhorrent at any time, but as our state struggles through the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senex Law continues to prey on poor tenants who have few options.”
“Senex Law has taken extraordinary measures to try and skirt the protections Congress put in place to try and prevent abusive debt collection practices,” said Brenda Castañeda, Legal Director with the Legal Aid Justice Center. “They lurk in the shadows so they can flout necessary consumer protections and charge attorneys’ fees that put Virginians who are already in financial trouble further into the hole.”
Based in Hampton, Virginia, Senex Law advertises itself as a next-generation firm focused on the multifamily housing industry, offering end-to-end multifamily legal processing using proprietary software that allows clients to process legal documents quickly, cheaply, and accurately, according to the firm’s website.
The Virginia Star reached out to Senex Law for comment on the class action suit but did not get a response by publication time.
In 2017, Senex filed more than 20,000 civil claims for evictions, four times more than other lawyer in Virginia, and collected almost $1 million from their clients’ tenants, according to reporting by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The complaint also alleges that in 2020 Senex has filed 3,891 unlawful detainers in Virginia, despite a statewide eviction moratorium that was in place until September 7.
Last Friday, a new federal eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went into effect, barring evictions for those eligible until the end of the year.
“It’s no coincidence that Senex operates in five jurisdictions that rank in the top ten for highest eviction rates in the United States,” said Bryan Slaughter, an attorney at MichieHamlett. “MichieHamlett is proud to partner with the Legal Aid Justice Center and the Legal Aid Society of the Roanoke Valley to prosecute a case against a company that, in our opinion, unquestionably contributes to the epidemic of housing instability within the Commonwealth.”
The full complaint can be found here.
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