Housing advocates encourages Gov. Northam to issue Executive Order on extending evictions

Published: Jun. 17, 2021 at 1:43 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 4:25 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Northam says his hands are tied: He can’t extend eviction protections through executive order when the COVID-19 state of emergency ends July 1.

The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) sent a letter to Northam asking to extend State of Emergency protections for tenants until the General Assembly’s next session.

Right now, the eviction moratorium for the state of Virginia is set to expire on June 30, ending the following protections:

  • Tenants will no longer be given notice of available rent relief.
  • Landlords will not apply for rent relief on behalf of their tenants.
  • Landlords will not be required to co-operate with tenant applications for rent relief.
  • There will no longer be a 45-day waiting period after either tenant or landlord applies for rent relief before landlords can proceed with eviction.

“We applaud the decision to maintain the Virginia Rent Relief program beyond June 30, 2021, when the State of Emergency is slated to end; however, available rent relief funds will do little good without strong policy to ensure both tenants and landlords know and take quick advantage of its availability,” the organizations stated in the letter. “A gap in these protections ... will be disastrous for so many Virginians who are desperately trying to pull themselves out of this crisis.”

Elain Pool, with the Legal Aid Justice Center, emphasizes that the governor has said, “that he prioritizes the Virginians when it comes to evictions,” and hopes that Northam, “will respond in kind.”

Marilyn Olds serves as the president of the Richmond Tenant Organization, a council of public housing leaders that work with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. She says the country as a whole isn’t ready just yet to lift these sorts of protections.

“When you just come out a bad sickness, you’re still weak. You beat the sickness, but you have to recover. We need to recover,” Olds said.

She also urges leaders to think ahead in terms of the COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness and reopenings or risk making the situation worse.

“When are they going to wear off? Then we’ll go backwards again. Let us wait to see how healthy we’ve strived as a country before we start to pull back resources,” she added.

However, the governor says he’s prohibited from extending the protections by state law. His office says the Executive Order does not extend to private contracts such as rent, however, certain protections will continue beyond July 1:

  • Protections for tenants for previous non-payments due to COVID-19 will last for 30 days after the end of the emergency order. Negative action against rental applicants (based on non-payment of rent because of the pandemic) will remain in place for seven years after the SOE expires.
  • Current law requires a court to grant a 90-day continuance of eviction proceedings when a tenant can demonstrate to the court that the failure to pay was due to COVID-19; this provision will remain in effect through the end of September, 90 days after the state of emergency expires.
  • Current law also allows 14 days for a tenant to make a missed payment (previously this was five days) before a landlord can serve them with a pay or quit notice—this is in effect until July 1, 2022. As part of that law, landlords that own more than four rental dwelling units must offer a payment plan along with the pay or quit notice.
  • For those who receive rental assistance or get on a payment plan with their landlord and make timely payments, a landlord must mark a payment as current if the landlord reports missed payments to a credit reporting agency. This is in effect 120 days after the date on which the national emergency expires.
  • Capping late fees for tenants at 10%, and a law prohibiting discrimination based on the source of income.

His office adds that any other action must go through the General Assembly.

According to the LAJC and the VPLC, un- and under-employment issues remain challenging for underpaid workers, which includes minority workers who have been hit the hardest during the pandemic.

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