Update: After this story was published, the Centers for Disease Control announced a final extension of federal eviction protections through the end of July.
State and federal pandemic eviction protections end next week, but help is still available for tenants who have fallen behind on rent – hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
“It’s a huge amount of money,” said Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, which represents tenants facing eviction. “My God, we should use it and take advantage of this almost unprecedented and unique opportunity.”
But to tap into Virginia’s $ 1 billion in federal aid, tenants or their landlords must apply proactively, and there are no longer any rules for landlords to cooperate.
A “national model” comes to an end
Last year, state lawmakers implemented a rent relief program that they funded through successive injections of money, mostly from federal aid programs. At the same time, they created rules that require landlords to notify tenants that help is available and to complete an application on their behalf. Landlords have not been allowed to proceed with an eviction except in cases where a tenant refuses to cooperate, is refused, or it takes more than 45 days for the state to process the request.
The approach seemed to work and was recognized as a national model for managing evictions.
To date, the state has distributed $ 244.6 million to 49,000 households, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development, which oversees the program. And last year, coupled with other interventions, evictions have plummeted. An analysis by Virginia Commonwealth University’s RVA Eviction Lab found that eviction requests and judgments had dropped to about 10% of the volume in the previous year.
The mandatory part of the program, however, ends on June 30, when the state of emergency declared by Governor Ralph Northam more than 15 months ago ends. Northam cited a dramatic drop in coronavirus infections. A federal moratorium on evictions, which allowed tenants to block legal action over financial hardship related to the pandemic, also expires on June 30.
Tenant advocates have argued it is too early to end protections, as the financial hardship caused by the pandemic will linger for months. The Northam administration responded by pointing out the important assistance that remains available to tenants.
Who is eligible for assistance
Although the state’s rent relief program has a series of eligibility requirements, advocates say most people who need help will likely qualify.
The state has implemented an interactive eligibility selection tool, but applicants must meet three main financial criteria:
â¢ Monthly rent must be equal to or less than 150% of the fair market rent designated by the federal government for their locality, which ranges from $ 1,051 for a two-bedroom apartment in rural Lee County to $ 2,647 in rural Lee. Fairfax County.
â¢ Household income at the time of application must be less than 80 percent of the region’s median income, which, again, ranges from $ 43,000 for a family of three in Lee County to $ 74,100 in Lee County. Fairfax.
â¢ Finally, the applicant must have experienced financial difficulties linked in one way or another to the pandemic. Examples cited by the state in application documents include dismissal, reduction of hours, inability to find work, and refusal or inability to return to work due to child care or employment. a high risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
How to get it
Renters or landlords can apply through the state website. Requests require documents, some of which must be from the tenant and others must be from the landlord.
The tenant is required to provide proof of income in the form of a pay stub, bank statement, letter from employer or other official document.
Either party can provide a copy of the lease or other documents describing the rental relationship.
Landlords must provide a rental register and a Virginia W-9 tax form, which documents their tax identification number and business information.
While there is no requirement for landlords to continue to inform tenants of available help or help them apply, property managers say this will likely remain standard practice.
âI think everyone is going to continue to educate people about the rent relief program,â said Patrick McCloud, who heads the Virginia Apartment Management Association, which represents some of the state’s largest landlords.
Likewise, he said it was unlikely that a landlord would refuse to cooperate with a tenant’s request. He said the most important thing for tenants to do is stay in touch with the person who manages the property.
âIf you know you’re going to be behind on the rent, talk to management before the rent is due. “
Other protections remain
Wegbreit, who represents tenants facing eviction in court, said that while there is no legislative requirement for a landlord to cooperate, a court is unlikely to reimburse someone for rent. who refused to participate in the program. This is because the common law requires that the parties to a contract take reasonable steps to mitigate their damages in the event of a breach.
âDefinitely, I could see a number of owners doing this stupidly,â he said. “I say stupidly because they would cut their noses to upset their faces by not taking the money and being healed when it’s a fairly easy process.”
And although mandatory participation is removed, other protections remain.
Until the end of September, tenants who find themselves in court facing an eviction lawsuit are entitled to an automatic 60-day extension if they can demonstrate that they have lost income due to the pandemic.
And until at least July 2022, landlords will have to wait 14 days instead of the usual five between alerting tenants they are behind on rent and filing an eviction complaint.
“The reason 14 days is particularly useful compared to five days is that most people get paid twice a month – not every five days,” said Phil Storey, who heads the eviction hotline. of the Virginia Poverty Law Center. âIf you fall behind, it can make all the difference. “
Finally, landlords with a stake in the management of 5 or more apartments are still required to offer a payment plan to tenants.
Storey encouraged tenants who need legal advice to contact their local legal aid group or call the eviction hotline at 1-833-NoEvict.