Raising Awareness for Virginia’s COVID Rent Relief Program

By Caleb Thompson

Virginia’s Rent Relief Program (“RRP”) is a program administered via Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development, and it exists to help “support and ensure housing stability across the commonwealth during the coronavirus pandemic”.[1]The assistance the program provides comes primarily in the form of financial assistance for rent payments, with an opportunity for tenants to renew these payments if further rent relief is required.[2] To qualify for rent relief, a tenant must meet the program’s eligibility requirements, which include either some form of loss of income because of an inability to work or an increase in expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [3] These requirements, among others, must all be proven in the tenant’s RRP application.[4] Still, some tenants may not hear about the program or be deterred by the strict application requirements. Thus, a concerted effort must be made to help tenants apply to the RRP, and qualified tenants must be made aware of the program’s existence.

As of the writing of this blog post, no landlord can take any action to evict a tenant for unpaid rent due since April 1, 2020 unless the tenant refuses to apply to the Rent Relief Program or disallows their landlord from applying to the Rent Relief Program on their behalf.[5] Still, due to the extensive documentation that RRP requires tenants to provide, applying to RRP can be daunting. Expensive electronic infrastructure such as quality internet service, computers, and scanners are necessary to upload the required documentation to the RRP online portal, making it difficult for tenants to apply on their own. If the tenant cannot apply independently a landlord may be frustrated with a tenant who is applying for rent relief, and thus a tenant may be too intimidated to approach their landlord to ask for the landlord’s help in applying to the program.

Still, many of Virginia’s legal aid offices, including Blue Ridge Legal Services (“BRLS”), which serves the Shenandoah Valley, and the Legal Aid Justice Center (“LAJC”), which is based in Charlottesville, are providing RRP application assistance to tenants in need of rent relief funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.[6] Both BRLS and LAJC have hired additional staff to help tenants navigate the RRP application process.[7]

Not every Virginia tenant who is behind on rent due to COVID-19 will immediately be aware of these programs, however. This general lack of awareness may be compounded by some Virginia tenants’ barriers to quality broadband access, which may make finding information about RRP difficult. Thus, it is extremely important that a concerted effort is made to educate tenants on their rights and relief options during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although applying to RRP can be intimidating, the help that it provides Virginia tenants during this difficult time are immense. If a tenant is granted RRP funding, then their entire past-due rent balance can be eliminated.[8]

Thus, Virginia legal aid offices, other Virginia non-profit organizations, and private attorneys should all be aware of the benefits of RRP and should make a concerted effort to ensure that their communities are fully aware of RRP’s existence. By posting fliers for the program, holding public lectures to educate tenants on their rights during the pandemic, and updating their websites to clearly advertise for RRP, these organizations can help to ensure that every member of their communities is well-aware that there is readily available assistance to make sure that tenants’ rent balances do not push them into a difficult position.

Above all, as state and federal COVID-19 protections are being stripped back and eliminated as the pandemic continues, it is more important now than ever to ensure that those who need rent relief can take advantage of RRP before its funding runs out or the program is eliminated. A concerted effort on the part of everyone who can help will be required to make sure no one falls through the cracks and is stuck with an unbearable rent balance or an eviction as funding for COVID-19 relief begins to wane.

[1] Virginia Rent Relief Program, https://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/rmrp (last visited Nov. 10, 2021).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Protections Against Eviction During COVID-19, Virginia Poverty Law Center, https://housing.vplc.org/covid-19/.

[6] See Randi B. Hagi, Legal Aid Groups Help Those Facing Eviction, WMRA (Sep. 29,2021), https://www.wmra.org/post/legal-aid-groups-help-those-facing-eviction?fbclid=IwAR3HnkC-HltnOXudO-0BSSfrx5aNv1CcibfZYq6FtjBAWD3hiF4aoWdnqPw#stream/0.

[7] Id.

[8] See supra, note 1.