30 second trials. Judges muting tenants. The problems with virtual evictions

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    asset management news magazine

    Tyler Marks, his wife, Maranda, and their daughter, Layla, 3, and two sons, Hayden, 7, and Atticus,1.Courtesy: Marks family

    His name is Tyler Marks. But he showed up on the gray screen during his eviction hearing as Call-in User_3.

    Unemployed for most of the pandemic, Marks couldn’t afford to buy a laptop or computer with a video camera, and so he called into his February trial.

    As he stood with his phone in the bathroom, away from where his children could hear, he thought about where he and his family would go if they were forced to leave their house in Walkertown, North Carolina. He and his wife, Maranda, have three kids: Hayden, 7, Layla, 3, and Atticus, 1. His mind drew a blank.

    “We had no savings,” Marks, 27, said.

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    During the coronavirus pandemic, eviction hearings across the country have moved from the courtroom to the computer. By November 2020, 43 states encouraged or allowed remote eviction proceedings, according to a study by Emily Benfer, a visiting law professor at Wake Forest University. Meanwhile, seven state courts mandated that eviction hearings be remote.

    Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has banned evictions for nonpayment until July, many landlords continue to file them. Only during their hearings can tenants try to invoke the health agency’s protection. Many landlords also find ways to evict people for reasons that the CDC’s policy doesn’t cover, such as by saying that their tenant’s lease has expired, when nonpayment is the real issue, advocates say. All of these problems underscore, they say, the importance of a fair trial.

    Yet remote evictions, which occur over video platforms like Zoom or WebEx, often deprive tenants of their legal rights, housing advocates say. Participants are frequently muted. Internet connection issues are common. Multiple tenants appear on screen at once.

    “We see virtual hearings that are 30 seconds,” said Lee R. Camp, a lawyer for tenants in St. Louis. “There’s no