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Lawmakers Work to Ensure Renters Know Rights

row houses
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

When courts reopened across Virginia, a wave of evictions flooded through them — and advocates raised concerns about the possibility of some being carried out unlawfully.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Mark Herring released a report detailing all available state and federal tenant protections. This came at the request of Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News), and about a dozen other lawmakers, following concerns about a lack of uniformity in the way Virginia courts are interpreting tenant protection measures. 

“We were witnessing evictions or relief being decided differently versus uniformly across the Commonwealth,” Price said. “We sought clarity of the legal options Virginia's tenants and landlords have at their disposal and the options that elected leaders have to help fix a broken system.”

Price said Herring’s report could serve as a point of reference for renters and homeowners to understand their rights. She said it also highlights how courts and landlords should be handling possible evictions. 

“There are a lot of ways in which the systems are not set up to help the person navigating the systems. And we’ve got to break that,” Price said. “If we have a stay at home, or shelter at home order, it is our duty to make sure that as many people can stay safe at their homes as possible.”

Current measures include a new state law that Price sponsored, giving renters a 60-day grace period to catch up on missed rent before facing eviction proceedings. It also grants homeowners and landlords 30 days before they undergo foreclosure proceedings. Qualifying Virginians have up-to 90 days after the state of emergency ends to request the 60-day delay from the courts.

Another new Virginia law from Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond), caps late-rent fees at either 10% of a tenant’s monthly rent or the total amount owed — limiting what landlords can tack-on.

Federal protections include a freeze on evictions, eviction filings and late fees for nonpayment of rent under the CARES Act. This moratorium applies to residents of subsidized and public housing, as well as properties financed through federally-backed loans. The CARES Act eviction moratorium prohibits landlords who oversee these properties from taking action against renters through July 25.

Price said she aims to tackle some outstanding eviction-related concerns. She will introduce new legislation during an upcoming General Assembly special session that will center around keeping evictions out of the courts. Next week, she’ll be hosting a virtual town hall on July 23, to inform tenants of their rights and the protections that are available to them.