Protect yourself: Virginia Tenant rights during COVID-19 pandemic

Virginia News

NORTHERN VIRGINIA (WDVM) — There are increasing numbers of people filing for unemployment and facing difficulties to pay their rent now that a new month has started. Tenants should know how to protect themselves and know their rights.

Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Property Law Center, says tenants will not have to worry about eviction because Virginia courts and sheriff’s offices are abstaining from processing non-emergency orders until the end of April. Even though tenants have the right to protect themselves from eviction during the coronavirus pandemic, Marra encourages renters to do their part to communicate with their landlords for help such as payment plans or deferrals.

Virginia Poverty Law Center shared this FAQ below to advise how tenants protect themselves:

I’ve heard there aren’t any evictions happening right now. Is that true?
• Until at least April 26, 2020, courts are not hearing any eviction cases and sheriffs are not
scheduling or carrying out evictions. It is illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant without a
court order and a sheriff’s notice.
• If your landlord tries to evict you without a court order and sheriff’s notice—by cutting
off electricity, heat, or water or by changing the locks—you can call the police for help or
you can file a Petition for Relief from Unlawful Exclusion with the court. The court should
hear your case soon, possibly by video conference, because it is an emergency.
If I’m living in a motel am I protected from eviction during the emergency?
• If a motel or boarding house is your primary residence and you have been there for more
than 90 days or have a lease for more than 90 days, you have the same protections against
eviction as other renters. The landlord must get a court order to evict you.
But my landlord just sent me a letter saying I have to move in five days if I don’t pay all the rent I owe. Is that legal?
• Even though the courts are not hearing eviction cases now, your landlord can still demand
rent and “terminate” your lease if you don’t pay.
• When a landlord terminates your lease, it gives them the right to take you to court.
Can my landlord still file a court case against me now for nonpayment of rent?
• Even though the courts aren’t hearing eviction cases (“unlawful detainers”) now,
landlords can still file a case that will be scheduled for later. If you get a summons for an
unlawful detainer with a court date in late April or May, don’t panic.

• If the Governor says it still isn’t safe for people to gather in crowds by your court date,
the case will probably be postponed. But check with the court to make sure.
I went to court before the COVID-19 emergency and the judge gave my landlord a judgment
for possession. Can the landlord still have the sheriff evict me based on that judgment?

• As long as your landlord once gave you proper notice, they can evict you based on a
judgment for possession in the following six months without taking you back to court.
I had a sheriff’s eviction scheduled in March, but it was canceled because of the COVID-19
emergency. Does my landlord have to take me back to court to evict me or can they just
reschedule the eviction?

• Your landlord can probably just reschedule the eviction after the crisis is over.
• Sheriffs should not evict anyone until at least April 26. If you get an eviction notice from
the sheriff before then, call legal aid immediately.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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