RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Some fear a wave of evictions could be ahead by the end of the month if key state and federal safeguards expire at the same time. Now say proponents Virginia’s rent reduction program will be the last line of defense for many.
A US Census Bureau database estimates that 34 percent of adults in Virginia “live in rentless or mortgage-free households where eviction or foreclosure is either very likely or very likely in the next two months.”
It comes as a CDC eviction moratorium to prevent relocation for non-payment of rent is expected to end on June 30th another legal setback.
Meanwhile, Governor Ralph Northam’s office alleges he has no authority to unilaterally extend certain government evacuation measures once Virginia’s declaration of emergency expires on June 30th. This arrangement has been in place for well over a year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just didn’t see that continuing the state of emergency could be justified, but we will do everything we can to help people stay in their homes. I hope the landlords will continue to work with them, ”Northam said at a press conference on Monday.
When asked to clarify why Northam is not maintaining protection by ordinance, as some legal aid groups have requested, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement:
Unless there is a state of emergency, the governor’s executive ordinances govern the operation of government agencies and the conduct of government employees, not private contracts. However, Governor Northam made affordable housing and evictions a top priority before and during this pandemic, and many safeguards will remain in place for weeks to years after the state of emergency ends.
Alena Yarmosky, spokeswoman for Governor Ralph Northam
Virginia Poverty Law Center residential attorney Laura Dobbs was among those calling on Northam to extend certain protections until the General Assembly could act later that summer.
In particular, starting July 1, landlords are no longer required to apply for rental discounts on behalf of their tenants, work with them during the process, or wait 45 days for that money to be approved before moving on.
The Virginia Apartment Management Association has previously claimed that these requirements are unnecessary because it is in the landlord’s best interests to get paid.
Dobbs said not all landlords see it that way.
“For a number of people, the only thing preventing an eviction is the CDC’s moratorium,” said Dobbs. “There are also a number of tenants trying to apply for a rent reduction but they are having trouble getting the necessary documentation from their landlord. Once these state safeguards are removed, the court will not simply wait to see if this application is approved. “
However, tenants in difficulty will still have a few options left open. For example, current law allows a tenant 14 days to make a missed payment – up from five days before – before a landlord can send them a payment-or-cancellation notice. This law, which is in force until July 1, 2022, also obliges landlords with more than four units to offer their tenants a payment plan.
Also, people can request a 60-day continuation of their eviction case until the end of September if a tenant can prove to the court that the non-payment was due to COVID-19.
“That doesn’t make the eviction case go away, it just gives them more time to catch up on the rent,” said Dobbs.
Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development director Erik Johnston said the state continues to update the criteria for its Rent relief program to capture people in financial need not directly related to the pandemic.
“Our federal funders have always given more flexibility in terms of eligibility,” said Johnston. “We’re updating the guidelines to include more people.”
“Whether it’s a recent loss of income or something related to the pandemic, we encourage all Virginians go to the portal and apply and most likely they will, ”he continued.
Johnston said the easiest way to find out if you meet the program’s income eligibility criteria is to use the state’s online calculator.
The program allows Virginians to apply multiple times for a maximum of 15 months’ notice. Up to three of these months can be prepaid. Later that summer, when the General Assembly allocates a new pot of federal funding, that will grow to a total of 18 months, according to Johnston.
Johnston said the state currently has $ 524 million available for rental convenience after spending $ 161 million. He said a total of around $ 1 billion had been awarded to the Commonwealth, including funds from the American rescue plan, which will be officially distributed following a special meeting later this summer.
“There’s an unprecedented amount of rental support,” he said.
Johnston says that once an application is completed, it takes an average of 10 to 14 days for that money to be approved. However, he said the process requires collaboration from both landlords and tenants, and a lack of information can slow things down.
Anticipating an influx of applications this summer, Johnston said they have taken steps to streamline the process and increase staff. He said they are also looking for local partners who can spread the word and help with applications, especially in communities of color and those with poor internet access.