New Housing Laws Take Effect Today
Thursday, July 1st, 2021
Big changes in housing law are taking effect in Virginia, with many temporary eviction protections expiring soon and new housing laws that passed during the 2021 legislative session going into effect today. Read below to learn more about the major updates.
Federal CDC Eviction Moratorium extended to July 31, 2021: The CDC Eviction Moratorium has been extended to July 31, 2021. To get this protection against being evicted for unpaid rent, tenants must sign and give their landlord a copy of the CDC Declaration.
State eviction protections end today: Starting today, landlords can take legal action to evict tenants for unpaid rent even if they refuse to cooperate with the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP). Landlords will no longer need to wait for tenants’ RRP applications to be approved before moving forward with the eviction case.
Tenants who have lost income at any point during the pandemic and are being sued for unpaid rent may have the right to a 60-day delay of their eviction case. This does not make the eviction case go away; it simply gives the tenant more time to catch up on rent or find new housing. This option is available until September 28, 2021. To learn more about how to get a 60-day Continuance, see here.
Virginia Rent Relief Program: Virginia has an unprecedented amount of rental assistance available to help tenants get caught up on rent and make landlords whole. Tenants and landlords alike can apply through the state’s website or by calling 1-703-962-1884. Most people who need help will likely qualify, but if a tenant is unsure, they can use the state’s interactive eligibility screening tool to find out if they are eligible.
Tenants who need help applying for rent relief can call the Eviction Legal Helpline (1-833-NoEvict) or their local legal aid office (1-866-LEGLAID). Landlords who need help applying can reach out to Housing Opportunities Made Equal (804-354-0641) and get connected to a housing counselor in their area.
NEW HOUSING LAWS TAKING EFFECT TODAY
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: Beginning today, 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 today, 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 today, 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): Starting today, there will 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: Beginning today, 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.
These new laws will provide relief to some tenants as they continue to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic. But more must be done to aid in this recovery.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 34.6% of Virginians are at risk of eviction or foreclosure in the next two months. As the General Assembly meets again on August 2, legislators will have another opportunity to extend eviction protections and allocate federal stimulus dollars towards housing stability efforts.