RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Another round of rent is due as many Virginians are sinking deeper into debt. There are several things tenants can do to avoid being evicted in 2021.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, those struggling to pay the bills have had to track a patchwork of state and federal regulations preventing evictions. Housing advocates argue these fragmented interventions have created confusion, causing some to lose their homes simply because they didn’t know their rights.
A federal eviction moratorium is still in place, even though Virginia’s has ended
Evictions in Virginia would’ve started up again on Jan. 1 if Congress hadn’t extended the moratorium nationwide in the new coronavirus relief package.
For now, the federal pause prevents evictions for missed payments from moving forward but only through the end of January.
Virginia Poverty Law Center Housing Advocacy Director Christie Marra says that for eligible renters to take advantage of the moratorium, they have to take action.
“Get a copy of the CDC declaration. Fill it out and give it to your landlord while keeping a copy for yourself,” Marra said. “This will protect you from eviction until the end of January.”
Virginia is getting more money for rent relief as restrictions on landlords loosen
Without an extension of the federal eviction pause come February, Virginians will have some state–level protections to fall back on. However, the budget passed by the General Assembly loosens restrictions on landlords in 2021.
Landlords in Virginia are still required to notify tenants of the state’s rent relief program. Yet they’ll be able to move forward with removal if the tenant is denied funding, if the state takes longer than 45 days to approve a payment or if the program runs out of money, according to Marra.
Congress recently passed an additional $25 billion for states to cancel missed rent payments for eligible applicants. Marra says at least $200 million is expected to come to Virginia.
“It will likely be double that though,” Marra said. “I think we’re going to have plenty of money but I also think there is a real risk that we will miss tenants and tenants will fall through the gaps and so we just all need to be working hard to make sure people know what to do.”
Marra said the most efficient way for tenants to access rent relief is by asking their landlord to apply on their behalf. Individuals can also apply directly to the state through a new help center.
“The worst thing that people could do now would be to think that they should wait to apply,” Marra said. “If you qualify for this rental assistance, get it now.”
According to a spokesperson for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), part of the reason why Congress only extended the moratorium through January was to give states time to implement the emergency rental assistance funding.
“Rental assistance will ultimately keep more people in their homes long term, as eviction moratoriums do not cancel debt owed,” Kaine’s spokesperson said in a statement Friday.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) — both early backers of the bipartisan relief package — say they would support extending the eviction pause even longer if necessary.
Certain landlords are required to offer payment plans before proceeding with an eviction
In Virginia, landlords who own more than four rental units must offer a payment plan of up to six months if a tenant signs a declaration of economic hardship due to COVID-19. Landlords are only required to offer this option once throughout the duration of a rental agreement. Those with four units or less are not subject to this mandate.
Once a payment plan begins, a landlord cannot collect late fees or report a tenant to a credit agency.
However, if a renter fails to keep up with the payments, they’ll be vulnerable to eviction once again after receiving a second 14-day notice.