Newport News delegate plans to reintroduce bill to help tenants facing eviction
Price wants to lengthen "pay or quit" period
Amid rising evictions in Virginia, a state legislator plans to reintroduce an expired public health emergency law which could help tenants pay their rent, although invested parties debate its efficacy.
Tenants, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, had a five-day period to get up to date on unpaid rent or vacate the property without having the case go to court. This stretch is known as the pay or quit period. Former Gov. Ralph Northam introduced the lengthened 14-day period alongside other special laws during a declared state of emergency in 2021. The provision expired June 30.
The number of eviction judgments began increasing this year. An eviction judgment is the official judgment made by the courts dictating whether a tenant is in violation of their lease for nonpayment of rent or any other lease breaking infraction. An eviction judgment is different from an eviction filing. The eviction filing is the official complaint made by the landlord stating the reason for the eviction. The filing is simply the first step in the legal process and will not necessarily lead to a tenant vacating the property. The RVA Eviction Lab, which operates from the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, tracks these numbers. Its focus is meeting eviction data and research needs to help drive policy and advocacy.
There was an estimated 60% increase in eviction judgments in the second quarter of the year, from April to June, according to data from Benjamin Teresa, co-director of the RVA Eviction Lab and an associate professor at VCU. Approximately 7,800 judgments were issued in the second quarter, Teresa stated. That is compared to 4,864 in the first quarter, or January through March, according to Teresa. The higher numbers track with the expiration of emergency provisions.
Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, plans to reintroduce a bill to lengthen the pay or quit period to 14 days versus the current five days. She sponsored House Bill 803 earlier in the year to cement the lengthened pay or quit period put in place in 2021. The bill died in committee along a party line vote, despite landlord and tenant support in her district, Price said.
The original timeline is not enough, considering a standard pay period is 14 days, Price said.
“The five days in the five-day pay or quit was completely arbitrary,” Price said. “That 14 days helped you get to the next check.”
Most people will receive a paycheck during the lengthened notice period, instead of approximately 35% who receive a paycheck during a five-day period, stated Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, in an email.
Wegbreit represents tenants facing eviction in court and says an extension would help many people stay secure in their housing.
“Quantifying how many more tenants will be able to pay with a longer notice period is not easy to calculate, but certainly it is a significant number,” Wegbreit stated.
The extended pay or quit notice was not the only provision put in place to help those facing eviction, but it did not require extra funding and it was pushed to become permanent by legislators.
Christine E. Marra is the director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. The rise in evictions is not a surprise as the special laws and funding made available during the pandemic have ended, she said.
“We are finished with the protections and that is the reason why you are seeing this huge spike in eviction cases,” Marra said.
Some experts do not think permanently extending the pay or quit period would make a meaningful difference to tenants.
The additional nine days only matters to the courts, said Tommy Herbert, manager of government affairs at the Virginia Apartment Management Association. The length of the pay or quit period only affects the timeline of the preliminary court hearing, not the actual eviction, according to Herbert, because of the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant’s Act passed in February 2021.
That act, also sponsored by Price, established the tenant’s unlimited “right of redemption.” This means tenants can pay back everything due to their landlord up to 48 hours before the scheduled eviction, and can do that as many times needed during their lease.
“In Virginia, given that the unlimited right of redemption exists for such a long period, the actual [eviction] filing timeline becomes immaterial,” Herbert said.
The typical time it takes to complete an eviction is anywhere from 30 to 45 days, depending on the Virginia locality, according to Virginia Apartment Management Association CEO Patrick McCloud.
McCloud agreed that the unlimited right of redemption made the 14-day pay or quit extension pointless.
“The redemption is there so the process can start moving, but someone can still be secure in their housing,” McCloud said.
However, not all tenants will want to face a proceeding that involves the court for mediation.
The best way to bring down evictions and eviction filings is to get tenants up to date on their payments, Herbert said.
“Rent relief and bringing a tenant current is a great way to prevent an eviction filing from ever happening,” Herbert said.
Rent relief requires funding, which has mostly dried up. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development closed its applications for state-wide relief funding on May 15, leaving only local programs available which can be found through the Virginia Department of Social Services by dialing “211 VIRGINIA.”
Educating tenants on their rights can greatly increase their protection in eviction cases, according to advocates at the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
Advocates recommend to show up to court dates to avoid hasty default judgments and see if there are any local rental relief programs available.
Tenants facing eviction can get free legal advice available through the Legal Aid Justice Center and the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.