RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bill that would have allowed local governments to hold landlords whose units don’t adhere to the rental agreement or who fail to address hazards at their properties was rejected by a Virginia House committee nearly along party lines.
The proposal, introduced by Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) and sponsored by more than a dozen other Democrats in the General Assembly, did receive two Republican votes on Jan. 12 when a smaller panel agreed to move it forward to the full committee.
But one of those Republican lawmakers, Del. Emily Brewer (R-Isle of Wight), voted against the bill when it was heard Tuesday in the House of Delegates General Laws Committee without any debate.
Under the bill, cities and counties would have had the authority to seek an injunction and damages in circuit court requiring a landlord to maintain the unit “in a fit and habitable condition.”
To do this, the rental unit’s conditions would have to constitute “a material noncompliance” by the landlord with the agreement with the tenant.
Price’s bill passed the General Assembly last year. But it was vetoed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who said the legislation contained “unnecessary and duplicative provisions” that give localities power to enforce health and safety standards against landlords.
“What I think happened was there was a conflation between what can happen under violations of the fire code versus what can happen under violations of the [Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code],” Price responded when asked about the veto during the Jan. 12 General Laws subcommittee meeting. “For the building code, for the things that are hazardous to health, this power does not exist.”
According to the bill, the locality could have also sought a court order and sued if the landlord did not promptly fix “a fire hazard or serious threat to the life, health, or safety of tenants or occupants of the premises,” including a lack of heat, electricity, hot or cold running water.
The legislation stipulated that the locality would have to notify the landlord of the issues and could only take legal action if they did not address the violations within a reasonable time. The court could have awarded damages to the plaintiff.
When it came time to vote Tuesday, the proposal failed to report out of the General Laws Committee in a vote nearly along party lines.
Del. Carrie E. Coyner (R-Chesterfield), who voted to advance the bill in subcommittee, joined Democrats to support the measure.
“HB1650 was in direct response to constituent concerns and lived experience with unsafe and unhealthy living conditions. There are slumlords here in the Commonwealth who refuse to make necessary improvements and repairs for their renters’ health and safety,” Price said in a statement after the bill was killed. “MAGA Republicans made it clear that they would rather protect wealthy slumlords over renters in desperate need of healthy and safe homes.”