Virginia lawmakers advance tenant-friendly laws to cap late fees, force repairs

Virginia lawmakers advance tenant-friendly laws to cap late fees, force repairs
The John Marshall Hotel building in Downtown Richmond now contains apartment housing. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A cap on late fees. More leverage to force repairs. A requirement that all large apartment complexes accept housing vouchers that many low-income residents rely on to pay their rent.

Tenant-friendly laws are advancing through the Democratic-led General Assembly with bi-partisan support this year, a departure from the reliably pro-landlord attitudes of past legislative sessions.

“It’s 2020, man, it’s a different world, but I think it’s about time we bring some parity in contracts with landlords and tenants,” said Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin.

Tenant advocates saw modest gains last year after a study found Virginia cities have among the highest eviction rates in the country, but marquee efforts like an eviction diversion program asked little of landlords, instead of appropriating state funds to help people catch up on rent.

“They were the things that could be changed without controversy,” said Christie Marra of the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

This year, she says more lawmakers have been willing to push legislation opposed by the industry, which in turn has been more willing to come to the table to negotiate on bills they might have easily blocked in past years.

One such proposal, filed by Stanley, would allow tenants to make essential repairs and deduct the cost from their rent if their landlord doesn’t take care of the issue within two weeks. After initially opposing the idea, representatives of the apartment industry agreed to a compromise that they said convinced them the new law wouldn’t harm responsible landlords.

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