COVID-19 and the ongoing housing crisis

By: Tiffany Ngo

Real estate agent sitting at the desk by the window and passing keys to his client in the office

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the nation since 2020, and the nation is still slowly recovering. Landlords and tenants in Virginia were not immune to the effects of COVID-19. In Fall of 2020, the unemployment rate in Virginia was 5.8%[1] and as a result, many Virginians found themselves unable to afford their rent payments.

 

At first, they found themselves with no recourse as landlords were still seeking payment, despite the tenant’s most recent unemployment. On September 4, 2020, the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”)“imposed a nationwide, temporary federal moratorium on residential evictions for nonpayment of rent…[which was extended] several times, until it expired on [August 26, 2021][2].” To date, there is no outstanding eviction moratorium issued by the CDC.

 

From March 2020 to at least April 26, 2020, the courts were not hearing any eviction cases, nor were sheriff’s scheduling/carrying out any evictions[3]. However, landlords were still allowed to demand rent payment, terminate leases for nonpayment, and file a lawsuit against tenants for nonpayment[4], the court just would not be hearing the case.

 

Shortly after the temporary pause of hearing and scheduling evictions, courts resumed hearing cases for nonpayment of rent, but the eviction moratorium continued to prevent evictions from occurring due to COVID-195. Now that the eviction moratorium has ended, not all hope may be lost. There are some additional rules and resources that may be available to renters facing eviction now, including the Virginia Rent Relief Program (“RRP”), which “is designed to support and ensure housing stability across the commonwealth during the coronavirus pandemic. Depending on availability of funds and household needs, the RRP may provide financial assistance for rent payment for eligible households6.”

 

Now, “[l]andlords cannot evict renters who had COVID-19 hardships unless they follow the specific rules:

  1. They must give the renter a 14-day notice that informs the renter about the RRP;
  2. They must apply for the rent help through the RRP during this 14-day period (unless the tenant pays rent, entered a payment plan, or already applied for RRP); and
  3. They must comply with the RRP process, by giving all information and documents7.”

Additionally, § 44-209, of the Code of Virginia “gives renters facing eviction a right to a 60 day continuance of their case if they have lost income due to COVID-19.8

 

Since the eviction protections expired, “landlords can still give [tenants] a notice to quit (which is a notice to tenants to either pay the defaulted rent amount or vacate the premises within 14 days)9; landlords can file an eviction lawsuit against [tenants]; courts may allow eviction trials to move forward; courts can still issue a new order, judgment, or writ of eviction against [tenants]; and law enforcement can enforce an existing eviction order against [tenants], to remove [tenants] from [their] home9 .”

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact not only on businesses, but also on landlords and tenants. Thankfully, the CDC created an eviction moratorium to help those tenants affected by the pandemic, and Virginia has taken the extra steps to create a Rent Relief Program to provide additional assistance. Unfortunately, the eviction moratorium has expired but many Virginians may still be suffering from the effects of COVID-19 and haven’t completely bounced back. Luckily, not all hope is lost. The RRP is still in effect and there are free legal resources to help tenants navigate through their eviction rights and the RRP process. If any Virginia tenants are currently facing eviction, after the eviction moratorium has ended, or need assistance with the RRP, they can visit: legalfaq.org/covid/va; call Virginia Poverty Legal Helpline at 1-833-NOEVICT; or their local legal aid office.

[1] NBC12 Newsroom, Virginia’s unemployment rate drops to 3.4%, lowest since start of pandemic, NBC 29 (Dec. 17, 2021, 3:54 PM), https://www.nbc29.com/2021/12/17/virginias-unemployment-rate-drops-34-lowest-since-start-pandemic/.

[2] The CDC’s Federal Eviction Moratorium, Cong. Rsch. Serv. (Aug. 31, 2021) https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IN/IN11673#:~:text=The%20CDC%20originally%20imposed%20a,expired%20on%20July%2031%2C%202021; see also Legal FAQs for Renters in Virginia, Legal Help FAQs, https://legalfaq.org/covid/va (last visited Jan. 5, 2022).

[3] FAQs About Evictions During the COVID-19 Crisis, Va. Poverty L. Ctr. (Mar. 28, 2020), https://www.valegalaid.org/files/E095B726-FCD8-81C1-17DC-A16C7ED73FFF/attachments/5027A478-91E9-4D3A-87FD-602025DE7CB1/covid-19-eviction-faqs-final.pdf.

[4] Id.

5 Temporary Halt In Residential Evictions To Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19, 85 Fed. Reg. 55292 (Sept. 4, 2020).

6 Virginia Rent Relief Program, Virginia DHCD, https://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/rmrp, (last visited Jan. 5, 2022).

7 Id.

8 Legal FAQs for Renters in Virginia, Legal Help FAQs, https://legalfaq.org/covid/va (last visited Jan. 5, 2022); see also 2020 Va. Acts 2.

see also 2020 Va. Acts 2.

9 Virginia Notice to Quit Form | Non-payment of Rent, eForms; https://eforms.com/eviction/va/virginia-5-day-notice-to-quit-form-non-payment-of-rent/ (last visited Jan. 7, 2022).

9 Legal FAQs for Renters in Virginia, Legal Help FAQs, https://legalfaq.org/covid/va (last visited Jan. 5, 2022).

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