New eviction laws put in place to help tenants and landlords in Virginia

Published: Jul. 16, 2019 at 12:09 PM EDT
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In July, seven laws affecting landlords in Virginia went into effect alongside

. Those seven laws focus mostly on eviction.

Kemper Funkhouser, the Virginia REALTORS President-Elect, said the catalyst for these laws was a New York Times article in 2018 that exposed high eviction rates across the United States. Virginia was one of the states near the top of the list.

Funkhouser said Virginia REALTORS noticed this article and worked with the Virginia Housing Commission to create new legislation to benefit both tenants and landlords.

"Housing is one of the most important things that we have as a nation. It's important that we have laws on the books that are both favorable and equitable to property owners and tenants as well," said Funkhouser.

According to Funkhouser, Virginia REALTORS is the largest trade association in Virginia and has approximately 35,000 members state-wide. It is a politically active group and it advocates for private property owners, as well as real estate issues in the commonwealth.

WHSV spoke with Michael Wong, the executive director of the Harrisonburg Housing Authority, in July, and he said that the laws put safeguards in place for tenants and they should help people avoid being evicted, which is often the first step to homelessness.

"We understand the impact of eviction on every family that is served – it's the start of people going into homelessness, and it's the biggest challenge people have then to get into stable housing," said Wong.

Funkhouser said, "We want to make sure that tenants that are struggling, that are having a difficult time staying in their house, that there are laws there to help them as much as possible, but on the other hand, we have to understand that many of these property owners must have that monthly income from tenants to be able to pay their mortgage."

Virginia REALTORS has provided the following explanations of all seven eviction laws:

1. Eviction Diversion Pilot Program (HB2655)

To address the number of individuals being evicted in Virginia, a pilot eviction diversion program has been established in four localities: Danville, Hampton, Petersburg, and Richmond. The program essentially sets up a payment plan where the tenant must pay any money owed over four months while continuing to pay their current rent.

*Note, these programs will begin in July of 2020.

2. Unlawful Detainer Appeal Bond (SB1626)

Previously, the law required the defendant (tenant) to pay an appeal bond that included everything currently owed, plus all rents they would owe through the court date, which was often 6-12 months away. This often made it financially impossible for a tenant to appeal.

Now, the tenant has to pay everything they currently owe and then pay their monthly rent into the court as it becomes due. If the tenant misses a payment, the appeal is no longer valid.

3. Right of Redemption (SB1445)

This law updates the tenant’s right of redemption to allow a tenant to pay all money owed at least two business days before the date on which the eviction is scheduled. This allows tenants even more time to exercise their right of redemption and not face eviction.

4. Unlawful Detainer Hearings (HB1922/SB1627)

Currently, UD cases are supposed to be heard within 21 days after filing or as soon thereafter as practicable. This would cap that by saying that “as soon thereafter” in no event means more than 30 days after filing. Now, landlords must present a copy of the termination notice to the judge to get an order of possession, which is already the practice in most courts.

Additionally, landlords are now required to amend unlawful detainers if/when additional amounts become due after initial filing (e.g. as more months of rent become due) as opposed to filing additional UD cases. This means less paperwork and court costs for landlords and fewer UDs on the record of a tenant.

5. Written Leases (HB2054 / SB1676)

This requires landlords to offer written leases to the tenant. If a written lease isn’t provided, then tenancy will be governed under the rules of the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. (The VRLTA includes default terms such as rental agreements being 12 months long and rent being due at the first of the month.)

6. Writs of Eviction (HB2007/SB1448)

These bills require that landlords either use or lose their writ. Landlords will have 180 days to use an order of possession to get a writ of eviction. Any non-executed writs of eviction must be returned to the court and be vacated as a matter of law. This would let future landlords know if a writ was executed or returned to the court when they are screening tenants, giving them a more accurate assessment.

7. Tenant Attorney Fees (HB1923)

The Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act (VRLTA) has been updated to provide that if the tenant prevails under certain sections of the law (e.g. where the tenant proves the landlord failed to remedy within a reasonable time a fire hazard, serious life/safety threat, or other material noncompliance by the landlord), they can be awarded reasonable attorney fees.