You have rights if you’re facing coronavirus-related eviction

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — COVID-19 may have taken away your income, but it has also created new rights for tenants.

Even before the outbreak, evictions in Hampton Roads were higher than other regions and residents of color were hit the hardest.

Right now, courts in Virginia have more than 11,000 eviction cases pending. That may sound high, but “we expect that number to go way up,” said Director of Housing Advocacy Christie Marra at the Virginia Poverty Law Center in Richmond.

She gives two key reasons: the end of the weekly $600 unemployment supplement by July 31, plus the benefits of the stimulus checks will have faded away.

So, more people won’t be able to pay their rent in the coming weeks. But if your landlord takes you to court and you lost your job because of COVID-19, you have a right to a 60-day continuance.

“That right is for anybody that had a COVID-related loss of income,” Marra said. “And they need to bring some sort of documentation of that loss of income with them (to court).”

Also if the property you rent has any kind of federal financing — a VA, Fannie Mae or Sallie Mae mortgage — or it’s a Section 8 voucher property, it’s part of a federal moratorium on evictions under the CARES Act. That means you can’t be given a 30-day notice to vacate any earlier than July 31.

“(Tenants) should ask the judge, or they should ask the landlord if his property is covered by the CARES act. And if he doesn’t know, then they should ask that the case be dismissed,” Marra said.

Evictions rates were already high in Hampton Roads before the outbreak of coronavirus with a disproportionate impact on minority neighborhoods, and Marra expects that to remain the same.

“Whether it was unreasonably high rents or a practice of local landlords to file in court instead of trying to work out payment plans,” Marra said, giving possible reasons for evictions.

If your landlord takes you to court over unpaid rent, it’s a civil matter, not a criminal one, so you won’t get thrown in jail. The process involves a five-day “pay or quit” notice, and after those five days the lease would be terminated. But you would also have one more chance to make good on the money you owe.

“If they can get all the money that they’ve been sued for, they can stop an eviction and they have that right up until two days before the sheriff comes,” Marra said.

Another new law that was supposed to take effect July 1, but instead began in April on an emergency basis because of COVID-19’s devastating economic effect — a cap on rental late fees. They’re now capped at 10 percent of the amount owed or the monthly rent, whichever is lower. The law is designed to keep people’s balance due from spiraling out of control.

Click here for more information on Virginia’s Rent Relief Program.

The Virginia Poverty Law Center Eviction Legal Helpline can be reached at 833-NOEVICT (833-663-8428).

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