Struggling Virginia Tenants Could Get Help From Proposed ‘Payment Plan’

By Arianna Coghill

August 28, 2020

Under this bill, tenants struggling to pay rent will have the option of setting up a payment plan from their landlords without incurring late fees.

RICHMOND-Since the end of Virginia’s eviction moratorium June 22, an estimated 4,131 families lost their homes due to unpaid rent. In the next eight weeks, 7,052 more eviction hearings will go before a judge in the commonwealth. That’s according to the Legal Aid Justice Center, which has been tracking the data over the last two months. Simply put, many Virginia tenants are struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19. Some lost their jobs, while others were put on unpaid furlough. 

Now Gov. Ralph Northam did push through a type of assistance at the end of July, but it wasn’t enough to solve the problem. Northam’s plan put a hold on actual evictions until Sept. 7, meaning that court cases can continue, but families won’t be physically removed for at least another week. Developing a more permanent solution was the entire point behind calling the General Assembly back for a special session and on Friday, the House of Delegates gave residents a look at what that might be. 

Lawmakers Offer Up a Payment Plan

By a 55-41 vote, the House passed HB 5064, also known as the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act on Friday. Sponsored by Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News), it requires landlords to offer a payment plan to any tenant behind on rent. The landlord has to give the offer and a written notice of the amount owed before closing any type of rental agreement due to unpaid bills. 

“The global pandemic’s impact on the economy has exposed further work that needed to be done to keep people in their homes to prevent evictions,” Price said during Thursday’s House session.  “Just as we are in special session to address the financial impact on our budget, we must also address the impact on families across the commonwealth.” 

The payment plan would be spread out over a period of six months or the remainder of the lease, whichever is shorter. This would be done in a series of equal payments, with no late fees incurred during the period. And while this plan may only be used once during the lease, tenants can seek other forms of rent relief at the same time. It’s also worth pointing out that landlords with four or fewer units are exempt from the bill. 

Virginia Tenants Would Have Evictions Put on Hold

Another one of Price’s bills also passed through the House on Friday. HB 5115 provides a 60-day stay of an eviction for renters and a 30-day of foreclosure for homeowners who can provide written proof that they’ve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  It passed by a 55-40 vote. 

Price said she’s seen plenty of judgments requiring Virginia tenants to lose all their income in order to receive a 60-day stay before an eviction. Some tenants received even less than that. The Newport News legislator hoped that this bill would clarify the specific language of the original provisions of the bill. These provisions are set to expire 90 days after the end of Virginia’s current state of emergency. 

CASA, an advocacy group centred around protecting the rights of Latinx and immigrant communities, came out on Friday in support of Hb 5115, stating that rent relief is a matter of life and death in this pandemic. 

“Protecting working-class Virginians from the health and economic disaster caused by the coronavirus is the point of launching the special session. This virus has led to mass unemployment and with that comes the fear of losing homes” said Luis Aguilar, CASA’s Virginia Director, in a statement. 

The Latinx community has been hit harder than most in this pandemic. They make up 45 percent of Virginia’s coronavirus cases and 35 percent of hospitalizations despite only being 10 percent of the population. 

READ MORE: Latinx People Make Up Half of Virginia’s COVID-19 Cases Despite Only Being 10% of the Population

Both bills now go to the Virginia Senate, where they’ll be discussed on Monday. 

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