Proposed changes to Virginia Eviction Laws Aim for Fairer Balance
They would also shorten the time that a court order authorizing an eviction remains in effect. Those orders can hang over tenants’ heads for months, even after they’ve made good on their rent, said John G. “Chip” Dicks, the former legislator who spearheaded the compromise efforts. The changes also would set up a formal mechanism for clearing a tenant’s record if a landlord cancels an eviction after a last-minute rent payment. Landlords would also be able to amend the filings that start the typically three-month-long legal process of eviction to include any additional missed rent and late fees. That should reduce the flood of eviction papers that swamps Virginia courts and hold down the legal bills landlords pay and that are supposed to be reimbursed by tenants, Dicks said.
A study by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab cited that paperwork as evidence that Hampton ranks third in the nation in the number of evictions; Newport News is fourth, Norfolk sixth and Chesapeake 10th. But the study did not count the number of eviction orders that actually resulted in someone losing their home. There are no formal records of evictions that are not executed because rents and fees were paid at the last minute. Dicks said the proposal requiring a formal court record when a landlord cancels an eviction writ would help the General Assembly get a better handle on how often Virginians lose their homes and whether additional changes to the law could help. His group also proposed a pilot program to have judges oversee payment plans for tenants facing eviction, to see if that is a way to keep people from losing their homes. Hampton would be one of three cities testing that effort. The housing commission work group approved the concept of a pilot program but asked Dicks and his group to do some more work on it. The commission panel recommended five bills proposed by Dicks’ group. If approved by the full housing commission, they’ll go to the General Assembly next year.
“There was a lot of give and take by real estate interests, there was a lot of give and take by legal aid societies and the tenants we represent,” said Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, urging the housing commission to support the measures.
Dicks, who represents Virginia Realtors, said the compromise proposals were the result of hundreds of hours of work. Brian Gordon, representing the Virginia Apartment Management Association, also asked the panel to support the proposals. But Petersburg City Councilwoman Treska Wilson-Smith asked the panel to do more. “What I’m seeing is a way to get the money to the landlords, I’m still not seeing the tenants’ side,” she said. “What our tenants are telling us is we need some help.”
Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, firstname.lastname@example.org