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Virginia AG outlines tenants' rights amid COVID-19 pandemic

(WHSV)
Published: May. 7, 2020 at 2:41 PM EDT
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As we hit the point at which late fees are normally levied on people's rent, Virginia's attorney general is laying out the rights of tenants as evictions remain suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 many Virginians have found themselves in tough financial situations and may not have the ability to pay their rent right now, which is why it is so important that every Virginia tenant knows their rights during this time,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “It is absolutely outrageous that any landlords are trying to evict their tenants right now at a time when we are asking every Virginian to stay home to keep themselves and their families safe and prevent further spread of the virus.”

So long as the Supreme Court of Virginia's judicial emergency order remains in effect—

—Herring says tenants should familiarize themselves with their rights and protections.

Evictions and abandonment

Under the extended judicial emergency order, all non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings, including new eviction cases, have been suspended until at least May 17.

Herring says that means landlords cannot legally evict any tenant for a non-emergency reason. And not paying rent is not an emergency reason.

You do not have to move just because your landlord tells you to. If your landlord tries to evict you without a court order and a sheriff’s notice – by cutting off electricity, heat, or water or by changing the locks – you should seek legal assistance at:

or 1 (800) 552-7977

• Your local legal aid office or 1 (866) LEGLAID

• The Eviction Legal Helpline at 1-833-NOEVICT

Depending on the circumstances, Herring says Virginians may have additional rights under state or federal initiatives.

gives tenants an additional 60-day continuance if they explain to the courts (once they have reopened) that their income has been adversely affected by COVID-19.

The CARES Act also includes a prohibition on charging late fees or filing to evict through at least July 25 for any tenants living in federally subsidized housing.

Other housing units are covered by a Virginia Housing Development Agency program that prohibits housing providers that receive mortgage forbearance from evicting tenants.

The attorney general also says notices of abandonment "are not legitimate tools for landlords to use to evict tenants who are sheltering in place."

Herring says if your landlord sends a notice of abandonment while you're there, respond in writing that you do not intend to abandon the unit

If your landlord has tried to evict you through a notice of abandonment, you can reach out to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:

• By phone: (800) 552-9963

• By email: consumer@oag.state.va.us

Extended Stay Hotels and Motels

Attorney General Herring says if you have stayed in a hotel or a motel for more than 90 days or have a written lease with a term of more than 90 days, you are protected under the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act (VRLTA) and cannot be evicted for a non-emergency reason during the mandatory continuances required under the judicial emergency order.

Anyone currently living in hotels or motels but have not been there for 90 days or do not have a lease are not protected by VRLTA, but the landlord must give them a five-day notice of eviction if they have failed to pay.

The following are ways the attorney general says he has taken action during the pandemic:

Successfully petitioned the SCC to put a hold on all utility disconnections and, in response to a second request from Attorney General Herring, the SCC extended that freeze and suspended all late fees for the duration of the state of emergency • Reviewed price gouging complaints from around the Commonwealth with his Consumer Protection Section and investigated any potential violations and pursued violators, including sending warning letters to dozens of businesses about which Virginians have complained • Issued numerous warnings urging Virginians to be wary of COVID19 related scams as well as scams related to the federal stimulus package • Issued an advisory opinion outlining the authority of public bodies, including local governments, to conduct meetings and critical public business while meeting social distancing needs and important transparency and accountability obligations • Sent letters to Amazon, Facebook, Craigslist, Ebay, and Walmart urging them to more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers who are using their services • Urged Virginians who have lost or could lose their jobs due to the COVID-19 health crisis to evaluate their insurance options to make sure that they remain covered during this unprecedented national health crisis • Lead a multistate effort of 20 attorneys general in urging 3M to do more to combat inflated prices of N95 respirators and other desperately needed PPE • Urged the telecommunications industry to make further commitments to protect consumers who are struggling financially as a result of COVID-19 and in calling upon the FCC for support • Fought to protect women’s access to reproductive healthcare by filing amicus briefs to block efforts to ban abortions during COVID-19 in Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas • Warning the nation’s three Consumer Reporting Agencies that he will not hesitate to enforce safeguards set in place to ensure consumers’ credit is properly protected and that their credit reports are fairly and accurately reported as Americans continue to struggle from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 public health crisis • Encouraging Virginians to utilize mental health and substance abuse treatment services, including through insurance purchased on Healthcare.gov

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