If you own property that you are renting out, it is important to make sure that you stay up to date with the latest legal changes. Each year numerous bills potentially affecting landlord tenant law are brought before the Virginia General Assembly for consideration. These bills are drafted in response to constituent concerns, as fixes for loopholes in existing law, or in reaction to regional or national housing related issues. This year’s changes fall primarily into the last category.
A New York Times article published in April of 2018 examined the eviction process in general and looked specifically at Virginia in much of the statistical data. Virginia law allows for removal of a non-paying tenant from possession in roughly 60 days, which compared to other states in relatively quickly. While this sounds negative for tenants, most professional property managers understand having a non-paying tenant in residence for a prolonged period ultimately leads to larger money judgments against them, making the process of paying off the judgment and repairing their credit more onerous. It also places landlords in financial jeopardy since small landlords in particular rely on the prompt payment of rent to meet their mortgage obligations. Tenants who are removed from possession via the eviction process and/or have monetary judgments entered against them have a much harder time securing housing. Most landlords do not want the risk of renting to someone who has failed to make timely payments under a previous lease.
Changes in the Eviction Process
After much discussion and dialog between representatives of tenant and landlord advocacy groups, there was agreement on several substantial changes to the eviction process. The concept behind all was to avoid displacing otherwise reliable tenants who suffer a temporary setback, giving them an opportunity to get on track with payments and avoid all the negative consequences (and cost) of an action for possession by the landlord.
The key changes were:
- Creation of an eviction diversion program to be implemented in four Virginia localities (Danville, Hampton, Petersburg, & Richmond) as a test. This pilot program would provide a vehicle for tenants to make installment payments on relatively small delinquent balances without fear of being displaced.
- Reduction in the shelf life of Orders of Possession issued by the courts. Orders of Possession now expire in 180 days versus the previous 365.
- Extension of the time allotted for tenants to pay rent and fees due to avoid eviction.
- Reduction in the amount required as a bond to appeal a General District Court decision to the Circuit Court.
- Establishment of default terms and conditions when there is no written lease. Believe it or not, some landlords, particularly predatory ones, operate without written leases.
- Automatic amendment of Unlawful Detainer cases (actions for possession) with all rents and other charges due as of the return date. This prevents tenants from being assessed multiple legal fees and consolidates actions into a single hearing.
No landlord or property manager wants to end a tenant relationship through eviction, and these changes provide a vehicle for tenants to remain in their rental home after a short term financial issue. Careful screening by professional property managers like the team at TREG help minimize the risk to landlords and ensure when issues arise the appropriate laws are followed.
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