legislative advocacy header image

2021 Special Session Recap: How VPLC’s Budget Priorities Fared

New Laws Effective July 1, 2021

Click through the menu below to learn more about new laws taking effect in Virginia on July 1, 2021.

    14-day Notice & Payment Plan Offer: Until July 1, 2022, all landlords must provide tenants who fail to pay rent on time a 14-day “pay or quit” notice. For tenants behind on rent, having 14 days to pay what they owe – versus the previous five days allotted – can make all the difference between getting sued for an eviction and staying in their home. The bill also requires landlords who own five or more rental dwelling units to allow the tenant to enter into a repayment agreement to pay off the balance owed. This provision will make it easier for tenants to get caught up on rent, allowing them to stay in their home.

    Consent to Enter Rental Unit During Pandemic: Landlords must give tenants at least 72 hours’ notice (versus the previous 24 hours’ notice) of routine maintenance before entering the building unless the maintenance was requested by the tenant. During a state of emergency based on a pandemic, tenants may also provide written notice to the landlord that they do not want non-emergency maintenance conducted. If a tenant provides this notice, the landlord can only enter the home to conduct non-emergency maintenance once every six months.

    Right of Redemption: In 2019, the General Assembly created the “right of redemption,” which allows a tenant to pay everything they owe, including late fees and courts costs, to avoid an eviction judgment. Unfortunately, tenants were only permitted to exercise this right once per year. Starting July 1, 2021, most tenants will be able to “redeem” any number of times. Tenants will also have more time to redeem, up to 48 hours before the scheduled eviction by the sheriff. The new law also requires landlords to provide clear, specific language explaining the right of redemption that must be in all termination notices. A sample notice is available on the Department of Housing and Community Development’s website here.

    Statutory Damages for Unlawful Exclusion: If a landlord takes the law into their own hands and evicts a tenant without going through the courts, the tenant can file an “Unlawful Exclusion” lawsuit to get back into the home. But this hasn’t stopped some landlords from cutting off utilities or changing the locks to force tenants out. Starting July 1, 2021, tenants who have been unlawfully excluded will be able to recover $5,000 in statutory damages or four months’ rent, whichever is greater, in addition to actual damages and attorney’s fees. Moreover, courts will be required to schedule hearings for illegal lock out cases within five days, allowing tenants to get relief more quickly.

    No Waiver of Rights Under Service Members Relief Act (SCRA): There will now be greater protections against housing and employment discrimination for members of the military, including active duty servicemembers and veterans. Landlords will no longer be permitted to include lease provisions requiring tenants to waive their rights under the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Among other things, the SCRA provides active duty servicemembers the right to a 90-day delay of any eviction case filed against them. This often makes the difference between whether the servicemember has a default eviction judgment against them (i.e., an eviction judgment entered without the servicemember being present) or a dismissal of the case.

    Statement of Tenant Rights & Responsibilities for Mobile Home Residents: Park owners must provide residents with a written statement of tenant rights and responsibilities within one month of the effective date of the rental agreement. The landlord cannot file or maintain an action against the tenant for any alleged lease violation until the landlord has provided the statement to the tenant. The statement is available on the Department of Housing and Community Development’s website.
    Preserving the American Dream: Better Notice Before Foreclosure, Protections for Manufactured Home Communities: The Preserving the American Dream Act will help homeowners facing foreclosure. Starting October 1, 2021, homeowners must receive a notice that informs the homeowner about their rights before their home can be foreclosed upon. Effective July 1, 2021, there are changes to existing laws that protect manufactured home communities, a valuable source of affordable housing.

    Requiring Licensing and Policing of Debt Settlement Companies: Debt settlement companies charge a fee to negotiate a payment with your creditors for less than what your creditor claims you owe. This new law gives consumers several new rights, including a cap on allowed fees and a rule stating that the company cannot charge a fee until the service is provided. The new law can be enforced by the Virginia Attorney General or by consumers themselves.

    Requiring Licensing and Policing of Student Loan Servicers: This new law requires student loan servicers to properly inform borrowers of their rights regarding repayment of the loan and properly apply payments. The law also prohibits incorrect reporting to credit reporting agencies. The new law can be enforced by the Virginia Attorney General or by borrowers themselves.

    Balance in the Electric Utility System: A new law establishes the Percentage of Income Payment Program (PIPP), which will provide low-income Dominion and Appalachian Power consumers with a limit on their electric bills, energy efficiency programs, and energy conservation education programs to alleviate energy burden.
    Ensuring More Children Receive Health Care Coverage: Starting July 1, 2021, a new law will require the state to identify whether children are eligible for Medicaid/FAMIS when making child support determinations.

    “Kin First” and Keeping Families Together: Local departments of social services and licensed child-placing agencies are now required to involve a child's relatives and fictive kin when developing a child's foster care plan.

    Ensuring Children Have Permanent, Safe, Stable Homes: A new state-funded Kinship Guardian Assistance program will facilitate child placements with relatives, including fictive kin. This will provide more children with safe, stable, and permanent homes – and according to fiscal analysis, save Virginia money.

    Easing the Paperwork Burden on Divorces: A new law eliminates an unnecessary witness affidavit requirement for uncontested divorces.

    Safety for Children through Guardianship: This new law expands the eligibility for parents to name a guardian for their child in additional circumstances, such as when they fear they may be deported.

    Increasing Family Stability for More Children: By providing for "confirmatory adoptions" for certain persons who act as parents to a child: unmarried same-sex couples, non-married couple co-parenting arrangements, and co-parenting grandparents.
    Protecting Victims of Sexual Abuse: Virginia law previously required adult victims of sexual violence to report such crimes within 120 hours of their occurrence to be eligible for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. Starting July 1, 2021, such victims are exempt from this 120-hour requirement.

    Firearm Restrictions for Abusers: It’s a Class 1 misdemeanor for any person who is convicted after July 1, 2021, of assault and battery of certain types of family or household members to purchase, transport, or possess firearms.

    Protecting Victims of Sex Trafficking: Starting July 1, 2021, there is a new procedure in place for victims of sex trafficking to have certain convictions vacated and their police and court records expunged for such convictions.
    Medicaid Expansion: Dental Benefits, Coverage for Pregnant Women Regardless of Immigration Status, Doula Benefits, and Contraception Coverage: Effective July 1, 2021, Virginia has expanded Medicaid to cover dental benefits for all new and current enrollees as well as added new coverage for pregnant women regardless of their immigration status. The Medicaid expansion also includes an added doula benefit and coverage for 12 months of contraception so that any person can get contraception for a full 12 months at a time and avoid interruptions if they lose coverage.
    SNAP Expansion: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been expanded, making 25,000 more families in Virginia eligible for food assistance. The expansion will also reduce the growing issue of school meal debt, pump more money into local economies, and help smaller grocery stores. Additionally, employment and training requirements will now be satisfied through: enrollment in an accredited public institution of higher education, other postsecondary school licenses, or certification by the Board of Education or the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

    Increased TANF Cash Assistance Benefits: Starting July 1, 2021, cash assistance benefits for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program will increase by 10% for all TANF participants.

    Families Can No Longer Be Sued Over School Meal Debt: Effective July 1, 2021, every school board in Virginia must adopt a policy that prohibits the board from filing a lawsuit against a student’s parent because the student cannot pay for a meal at school or owes a school meal debt.
    Making it Easier to Correct Birth Certificates: It is now much easier for individuals to make corrections to their birth certificates, an issue that has particularly impacted lower-income seniors with handwritten birth certificates due to home births and poor record keeping. The new law will make it easier for these individuals to get Real IDs, which will be mandatory in Virginia by 2023 and which require valid birth certificates.

Legislative Advocacy

VPLC dedicates a significant amount of work to advocacy at the state level during the Virginia General Assembly session. When the state’s legislators congregate in Virginia’s capital, our advocates meet with lawmakers to defend, preserve, and enhance opportunities for low-income Virginians in the areas of public benefits and health insurance, family and child welfare, domestic and sexual violence, housing, and consumer protections.

VPLC Advocate Contact Information