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Martin Wegbreit column: Remaining eviction protection program should promote housing stability
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Unprecedented bonus

Martin Wegbreit column: Remaining eviction protection program should promote housing stability

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Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction protections end after July 31 and some state eviction protections end after June 30, an important state eviction protection will remain.

Of its original $1.1 billion, Virginia’s Rent Relief Program (RRP) still has $850 million in unspent funds. Based on past expenditures, that is enough to pay rent arrears for more than 170,000 tenants. With so much in available funds, no tenant in Virginia should be evicted for nonpayment of rent until after the last dollar has been spent.

Even after June 30, all landlords still will be required to provide 14-day nonpayment notices to tenants who are late on rent. This is an increase from the past 5-day nonpayment notice. This requirement continues through June 30, 2022.

Also after June 30, landlords with more than four rental units must offer payment plans to tenants late on rent. This is a change from the past when such plans were not required to be offered. This requirement also continues through June 30, 2022.

What changes after June 30 is that landlords will not be required to apply for RRP on behalf of tenants. Landlords still can and should do so voluntarily. Landlords also will not be required to inform tenants about RRP in the 14-day nonpayment notice. Again, landlords still can and should do so voluntarily.

These changes mean that in many cases the burden of applying for RRP will shift from the landlord to the tenant. Sensible tenants can and should apply for RRP on their own behalf at https://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/rmrp or: 703-962-1884

Chesterfield County tenants should apply for RRP with Chesterfield Emergency Rent Assistance at: http://actsrva.org/chesterfield-emergency-rent-and-utility-assistance-cera

Most landlords will cooperate and participate in RRP. Unfortunately, not all will. If a landlord does not cooperate with RRP and files an eviction lawsuit, the tenant should go to court and bring written proof of an RRP application. The tenant should use the RRP application to ask the judge to apply the mitigation of damages rule.

This rule requires a party who has not breached a contract to minimize damages when the other party breaches the contract. A court may refuse to award damages that reasonably could have been avoided.

To illustrate: Imagine a manufacturer of doohickeys who contracts with a supplier of widgets needed to make the product. Due to circumstances beyond its control, the supplier no longer can provide the widgets.

Before damages due to lost production can be recovered from the supplier, the manufacturer must make reasonable efforts to get widgets from another supplier to prevent or minimize losses.

The same rule applies in landlord-tenant cases involving nonpayment of rent.

Due to circumstances beyond their control, many tenants cannot pay full rent. Before possession and rent can be recovered from tenants, landlords must make reasonable efforts to get rent from another source.

That other source is the Rent Relief Program once the tenant has applied. And as of July 1, 2020, Virginia’s Fair Housing Law prohibits landlords from refusing to accept rent based upon the source of the funds.

Another eviction protection remains through Sept. 28. Tenants in eviction lawsuits for nonpayment of rent can get the case postponed for 60 days. Tenants should go to court with written proof of reduced income due to COVID-19 to show to the judge.

Four more eviction protections remain:

  • A landlord may not evict a tenant without following the court eviction process.
  • After a landlord files an eviction lawsuit for nonpayment of rent, tenants have the right to pay to zero balance on or before the court date and have the lawsuit dismissed.
  • After that, tenants have the right to pay to zero balance up to 48 hours before a sheriff’s eviction and have the eviction canceled.
  • As of July 1, tenants whose landlords rent more than four units may pay to zero balance and have the lawsuit dismissed or eviction canceled an unlimited number of times, rather than once every 12 months.

The $1.1 billion Rent Relief Program is an unprecedented bonus to landlords and their tenants. No other businesses — such as car dealers, credit card companies and utility companies — have received such largess.

For landlords not to apply for, or cooperate with, RRP after June 30 would be both shortsighted and unseemly. As we enter our postpandemic world, we have the unique opportunity to do so with enhanced housing stability. Let us hope that happens.

Martin Wegbreit is director of litigation at Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, a member of Richmond’s Eviction Task Force and a member of Richmond’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund Oversight Board. Contact him at: marty@cvlas.org

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