Tenant rights highlighted

During the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is encouraging Virginia tenants to familiarize themselves with their rights and protections, especially while the Supreme Court of Virginia’s judicial emergency order remains in effect.

“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 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.”

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, 2020. This means that a landlord cannot legally evict a tenant for any non-emergency reason like not paying rent. 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: Virginia Lawyer Referral Service or 1 (800) 552-7977; your local legal aid office or 1 (866) LEGLAID or the Eviction Legal Helpline at 1-833-NOEVICT.

Depending on your circumstances, you may have additional rights under state or federal initiatives. A new state law 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 federal CARES Act also provides significant additional protections, including a prohibition on charging late fees or filing to evict, through at least July 25, 2020 for tenants living in federally subsidized housing so they can maintain housing at this critical time. Other housing units are covered by a Virginia Housing Development Agency program that prohibits housing providers that receive mortgage forbearance from evicting tenants.

Additionally, notices of abandonment are not legitimate tools for landlords to use to evict tenants who are sheltering in place. If your landlord sends you a notice of abandonment while you are still present, 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, contact Herring’s Consumer Protection Section by phone at (800) 552-9963, email: consumer@oag.state.va.us.

Extended Stay Hotels and Motels

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. Those who are 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 the resident has failed to pay.

For more information consult the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s list of housing resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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