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As thousands of Virginians could face eviction after federal moratorium ends Saturday - here’s how to get VA rent relief money

There is about $700 million left in Virginia's rent relief fund.
There is about $700 million left in Virginia's rent relief fund.(NBC12)
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 2:48 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2021 at 10:49 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Thousands of Virginians could soon face losing their homes, after the CDC’s federal moratorium on evictions ends Saturday, July 31, but there is help - and plenty of it - according to housing advocates.

A huge pot of rental assistance money is still available for people struggling because of the pandemic. There is about $700 million left in the Virginia Rent Relief Program, enough to keep the majority of Virginians from being evicted through the end of the year, according to housing coordinators helping people apply for the funding.

The Virginia Rent Relief Program has paid out more than $311 million to over 48,000 households, since its inception in July of 2020.

“Even the National Apartment Association has given Virginia a shoutout to Virginia (as one of) the best-run state rent relief programs in the country,” said Mary Wegbreit, director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.

However, housing advocates say the biggest hurdle continues to be awareness. Not everyone knows about this money, causing some families to literally get put out on the street as some pandemic protections have been lifted.

In 2020, new federal and state requirements made it harder to evict people impacted by COVID-19, whether they lost their job, had their hours reduced, or suffered other pandemic-related losses, like medical expenses.

A CDC order allowed tenants to submit a signed declaration to their landlord stating they couldn’t make rent because of covid. That order generally stopped the eviction process in its tracks, said Wegbreit. But, that protection ends July 31, leaving many people vulnerable to getting kicked out.

During 2020, evictions in Virginia were about 10 percent of what they were the year before, according to the RVA Eviction Lab’s most recent report. Evictions were down due to the funding and policy federal and state governments put into place to keep people in their homes- and from spreading the coronavirus.

But as those protections have started to end in recent weeks, the U.S. Census Survey reported that 62-percent of renters in Virginia responded in June that they were in danger of being evicted in the next two months.

In Central Virginia, there were 3,648 evictions from March of 2020 through March of 2021. The city of Richmond had a total of 1,492 evictions, according to the RVA Eviction Lab. It should be noted that some people won’t qualify for the rent relief program. For example, if a person was fired from their job as opposed to getting laid off because of covid, they may not be accepted.

At the end of last month, one critical state protection ended. After June 30, when Virginia’s state of emergency concluded, landlords were no longer required to apply for the Virginia Rent Relief Program on behalf of their tenants, before attempting to file for an eviction.

In the weeks following, Victoria Horrock, a housing attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center, said there has been an increase in tenants ending up in court.

“Statewide, evictions have been trending upward noticeably since the end of June,” Horrock said. “Since some tenants are still covered by the CDC moratorium, we expect to see a much bigger increase sometime in August… We’re actually specifically asking the General Assembly to put that requirement back in place because lots of tenants, thousands of tenants in Virginia, are facing eviction, especially as soon as the CDC moratorium expires. But there’s no reason that any tenant in Virginia should be evicted for non-payment of rent.”

Thankfully, Horrock said a majority of people will qualify for the Virginia Rent Relief Program if they’ve been financially impacted by the pandemic.

Moving forward, renters will widely have to apply for the funds on their own, since landlords are no longer required. Some of the documents needed for the application are:

  • The lease or agreement between the tenant and landlord
  • Income documentation
  • Ledger or list showing the missed months of rent
  • State W-9 tax form which generally needs to come from the landlord or property manager
  • Statement signed by both the tenant and landlord, saying they will both participate in the rent relief program
  • The rent relief can even cover late fees or back rent.

There are several organizations and groups available to help people apply for the funds including:

Legal Aid Justice Center

Central Virginia Legal Aid Society

Blue Ridge Legal Services (Shenandoah Valley area)

Southside Community Development & Housing Corporation (SCDHC)

There are other still protections in place. Through June of 2022, a landlord must give 14 days’ notice to their tenant before filing an eviction in court, if their tenant has not paid rent. That was increased during the pandemic from the previous five-day notice. Also, if a landlord has five or more units, they must also offer a payment plan to their tenant before filing for eviction. That plan must repay the balance owed within six months, or whatever term remains in the lease (whichever is less).

So what happens if your landlord serves you a pay-or-quit notice or files for eviction?

Advocates stress not to ignore your landlord, hoping the problem will just go away. The eviction process will go forward regardless.

“There is no way to avoid an eviction unless someone responds,” said Patrick McCould, CEO of the Virginia Apartment Management Association. “That response is key to avoiding eviction. Absent that response, the process is going to start. And landlords have no other option but to go to court if a tenant fails to respond.”

McCloud also encourages property owners to be as receptive as possible to the rent relief program.

“It’s actually in the financial interest of the property owners to continue to work within that system, as it’s a much quicker process than trying to go through a court process, which... could be six months,” said McCloud.

Wegbreit also says that landlords must legally accept rent relief money.

“If the landlord does not claim the rent relief money that is available, they are not doing what Virginia law requires, which is to mitigate or minimize their damages,” Wegbreit said. “No tenant in Virginia should be evicted for non-payment of rent until that last dollar has been spent.”

If you do end up in front of a judge, the case is required to be postponed for an automatic 60 days, through September of 2021.

“We’ve seen how the virus has been especially devastating for people experiencing homelessness,” said Max Cook, a rent relief facilitator with the CVLAS, helping tenants apply for rent relief. “Anyway to help reduce that is a Godsend right now.”

For additional help applying for the Virginia Rent Relief Program, call 2-1-1 or visit dhcd.virginia.gov/eligibility.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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