Avoiding Eviction: How Virginia is Making Life Easier for Tenants

It’s a legislative success story. Reporting from the New York Times brought attention to Virginia’s eviction crisis, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers responded. In just a single year, the General Assembly passed a suite of legislation to bring clarity to the eviction process and give renters a second chance.

The goal is to keep renters from being evicted in the first place, while still making sure landlords get paid. One new law gives renters extra time to try to pay late rent, another makes it cheaper for them to appeal an eviction case.

One unique situation tackled by lawmakers, when there’s no lease in writing. Christie Marra, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, says landlords can take advantage of tenants that way.

“Especially in the more rural communities, where things are - from what my legal aid attorneys out in those communities say - often done with a handshake still,” Marra says. “So this will hopefully change that.”

The new law requires landlords offer a written lease, and codifies a standard lease that will apply in cases where there is no written one.

Many of the changes were spearheaded by members of the Legislative Black Caucus, like Senator Jennifer McClellan. She points to a limit on eviction lawsuits as another win. Before, a landlord could file a new lawsuit for each month of missed rent.

“Each lawsuit has court costs, fees, attorneys fees, and that really can snowball. And so one of the bills now says you can only file one lawsuit at a time,” McClellan explains.

Many of the changes in law represent best industry practice. Now those practices will be legally enforceable.

“It will mostly impact people with lower incomes who don’t have as many choices so they are often unable to afford to rent from the reputable property management groups,” says Marra.

The final push before the laws take effect this summer is education. The Virginia Poverty Law Center is holdings trainings in April for tenant advocates.   

 This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.