RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A proposal to expand localities’ power to enforce health and safety standards against landlords passed its first hurdle Thursday, winning support from both tenants’ advocates and industry groups.
HB 1650, patroned by Delegate Marcia Price (D – Newport News), would grant cities and counties across the commonwealth the power to sue landlords over conditions in their buildings that present “a fire hazard or serious threat to the life, health, or safety of tenants.”
During public comment, the bill received support from tenant advocates such as the Virginia Poverty Law Center as well as industry groups such as the Virginia Realtors Association and Apartment and Management Association.
“Under current law, code enforcement has no authority to ask courts to order landlords to follow the law,” Christine Marra of the VPLC said.
This is the second year Price has advanced the bill, which passed both the House and the Senate last year before being vetoed by Governor Glenn Youngkin. In his veto release, he said, “It is neither clear why this language is necessary to enforce already existing provisions of state law, nor what the additional language contained in the legislation seeks to accomplish beyond what is already authorized in the USBC.”
That prompted a question from Delegate Roxann Robinson (R – Chesterfield), a member of the committee, “What was changed that this bill has a better chance of success?”
Price replied that the veto likely stemmed from a lack of communication between herself and the Youngkin administration, causing them to confuse the fire code — which can already be enforced by localities — with the building code or USBC, which currently can’t.
“What I think happened, was there was a conflation between what can happen under violations of the fire code versus what can happen under violations of the [USBC],” Price said. “For the building code, for the things that are hazardous to health this power does not exist.”
The sub-committee also recommended approval of HB 1702, a bill from Delegate Michelle Mldonado (D – Manassas) that would require landlords to give tenants advance notice of rent increases when their leases come up for renewal.
The bills will now go before the full committee on general laws, which is liekly to concur with the sub-committee’s recommendation.