After several years of attention-grabbing reports on high eviction rates in Virginia, the state has begun collecting data on the number and location of evictions that occur over the course of a year. 

The effort, which is being carried out by the Virginia courts that issue writs of eviction — the legal documents that authorize a local sheriff to evict someone — follows legislation that passed during the last General Assembly session. 

“We hear a lot about an eviction tsunami and an eviction crisis, and it’s hard to get an idea of what the real scope of that is,” Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, told a House subcommittee this January. “This is just a data collection process we’re trying to get started here so that we can get our arms around how big of a problem, how big of an issue this is in the commonwealth.”

Since July 1, sheriffs have been required to return executed writs to the court that issued them so the state can systematically track evictions. Brandy Singleton, a senior attorney in the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Office of the Executive Secretary, told a Virginia Housing Commission work group Monday that the court system has also updated its case management system to capture that information.  

“What that will allow us to do is then run an annual report to see statewide how many of these are actually being executed and returned to the clerk’s office, and then that data in turn can be broken down by locality or a variety of other variables,” said Singleton.

The legislation requiring the data collection, House Bill 1836 and Senate Bill 1089, was supported by the Virginia Apartment Management Association and the Apartment and Office Building Association. 

The measures passed both chambers with bipartisan support. 

In 2018, researchers with Princeton University’s Eviction Lab ranked five Virginia cities — Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake — among the top 10 municipalities with the highest eviction rates in the nation. 

Legislators and policymakers scrambled for solutions. In 2019, the General Assembly passed more than half a dozen reforms intended to drive down eviction rates, including new requirements for written leases, longer periods for tenants to pay rent and fees to avoid eviction and the creation of an eviction diversion pilot. Other more tenant-friendly reforms followed in 2020 and 2021