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Virginia moves to restart eviction protections after federal moratorium lapses

‘It protects the tenants’
Deputies from the Henrico County Sheriff’s Department process an eviction on July 12, 2018. The...
Deputies from the Henrico County Sheriff’s Department process an eviction on July 12, 2018. The tenants had already departed and the deputies, after checking the unit to make sure it’s empty, watch as the owner changes the unit’s locks.(Virginia Mercury)
Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 5:02 PM EDT
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Virginia Democrats are moving to restart state-level eviction protections one month after allowing them to lapse.

The step comes as a federal eviction moratorium ends and President Joe Biden’s administration chastised states for not implementing their own moratoriums.

“There is no excuse for any state or locality not to promptly deploy the resources that Congress appropriated to meet the critical need of so many Americans,” Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said in a statement, noting that only a third of states had moratoriums in place.

Virginia was one of the first states to stand up a rent relief program, dedicating millions in federal aid to people unable to pay their bills. The program has been cited as a national model, but corresponding eviction protections that required landlords to notify tenants financial help was available and apply on their behalf ended in June, when Gov. Ralph Northam allowed the pandemic state of emergency to expire.

At the time, Northam’s administration stressed that the rent relief program still had millions of dollars available, money they believed landlords would tap into even in the absence of a mandate.

But as they gaveled into a special legislative session Monday, Virginia lawmakers said they believe a mandate is still necessary.

“What I think we are finding is that there are still quite a few landlords and tenants that do not know that the money is available,” said Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News. “So what we’re trying to do is make sure that if it’s mandated as part of the process, they’ll have to find out about it.”

Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said that in practice, judges in his district have continued to require landlords to apply for rent relief funds before granting evictions. He said the legislation would simply formalize and standardize that approach. “This makes sure that the landlords are paid and it protects the tenants in their situation,” he said.

The new protections, included in a budget proposal put forward by Northam with support from Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, are largely identical to the ones that expired last month. Under the law, an eviction for non-payment of rent could only move forward if a tenant refused to cooperate with the rent-relief application, is denied or if it takes longer than 45 days for the state to process the request.

Tenant advocates praised the step, even as they continue to push for a full moratorium that would extend to evictions for reasons other than the non-payment of rent. “Rent relief is there—we need to ensure it’s being used!” wrote the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center in a tweet.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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