Virginia lawmakers look to extend eviction protections as limited federal moratorium takes effect

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- As a limited CDC eviction pause takes effect, the General Assembly is planning to extend recently expired protections in Virginia.

The new federal moratorium is expected to remain in place until Oct. 3, unless it is struck down sooner by a judge.

Whereas the previous order generally defended tenants who declared financial hardship from evictions for non-payment of rent, this new moratorium only covers counties experiencing high or substantial levels of COVID-19 spread, as defined by the CDC.

That applies to a significant portion of Virginia right now but that won’t necessarily be the case moving forward.

“If it falls below that point for 14 days then people there lose protections of the order,” said Virginia Poverty Law Center Director of Housing Advocacy Christie Marra. “I think we’re putting judges in a really difficult situation but I do think it is better than nothing.”

On Wednesday, the House of Delegates passed a multi-billion dollar COVID-19 relief package crafted by Democrats, which includes a measure to extend a key eviction prevention tool in Virginia through June 30, 2022.

Once it’s approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam as expected, landlords will once again be required to notify tenants about the availability of rent relief and apply on their behalf before proceeding with a removal.

Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) said the mandate will raise awareness about the extensive funding being put towards eviction prevention in Virginia.

”It would be a travesty for us to have evictions happen while we have more than $700 million dollars available in assistance just because they didn’t know about it,” Price said.

If reauthorized, those requirements will apply to all property owners. Even then, if a tenant refuses to cooperate with the process, is denied funding or the program runs out of money, it would still be possible for an eviction to move forward in areas not covered by the CDC moratorium.

According to Marra, existing state laws already mandate all landlords to give 14 days notice following a missed payment before filing for an eviction and allow tenants to delay a case by 60 days during their first court appearance.

Meanwhile, a separate requirement to offer a payment plan only applies to landlords with five or more units, something Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) is seeking to clarify with an amendment.

“For a lot of the smaller landlords, what we don’t want to do is put them in a position where they will have a cash flow problem,” Barker said.

Republican Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) thinks it’s time for eviction protections to come to an end. He proposed an amendment to strip them from the spending plan altogether.  

“That obligation should be on the person renting at the property, not the person taking the risk of having to pay taxes, having to pay the mortgage and having to run the risk of losing their entire investment, which sometimes can be their life savings,” McDougle said.

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