PRESS RELEASE: New anti-poverty laws take effect in Virginia today
Thursday, July 1st, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 1, 2021
The suite of new laws will protect tenants, help families with food assistance, expand health coverage, protect consumers, and more.
Richmond, VA – Effective today, several new laws in the Commonwealth will benefit hundreds of thousands of low-income Virginians. The new laws include better protections for tenants, expansion of food assistance programs, expanded Medicaid coverage, stronger protections for consumers, and more.
“We are thrilled to see Virginia move forward on so many important anti-poverty measures,” said Jay Speer, Executive Director of the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC). “If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to change the way we think about poverty in America, to move away from the idea that getting out of poverty is a personal responsibility rather than a collective issue that can be resolved with equitable laws and elimination of systemic barriers. These new laws are a step in the right direction.”
Notable new laws include:
Increased Penalties for Unlawful Eviction: Unlawful evictions rose dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some landlords using illegal lock outs and utility shut-offs to evict tenants. 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.
Families Have More Time to Pay Rent and Stay Housed: 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.
Right of Redemption: When Landlords are Made Whole, Tenants Stay Housed: 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.
Better Housing Protections for Members of the Military: 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.
SNAP Expansion: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been expanded, making 25,000 more families in Virginia eligible for food assistance.
Families Can No Longer Be Sued Over School Meal Debt: Starting today, 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.
Medicaid Expansion: Dental Benefits, Coverage for Pregnant Women Regardless of Immigration Status, Doula Benefits, and Contraception Coverage: Effective today, 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.
Child Welfare 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. A new state-funded Kinship Guardian Assistance program will also 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.
Consumer Protections: Requiring Licensing and Policing of Student Loan Servicers and Debt Settlement Companies: New laws will provide greater oversight of student loan services and debt settlement companies. Student loan servicers must properly inform borrowers of their rights regarding repayment of their loan, properly apply payments, and are prohibited from incorrectly reporting to credit reporting agencies. Consumers also have several new rights regarding debt settlement companies. These new laws can be enforced by the Virginia Attorney General or by borrowers or consumers themselves.
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.
A comprehensive list of new anti-poverty laws taking effect in Virginia today can be found here.
CONTACT: Monica Lauw, Communications Director, Virginia Poverty Law Center