Can landlords evict a non-paying tenant? This continues to be the question on millions of tenant’s and landlord’s minds across the country. Unfortunately, however, many landlords were left confused and frustrated by the changing, and sometimes contradictory, federal and state guidelines throughout the pandemic. In addition, emergency relief programs have struggled to get desperately needed funding into the hands of applicants. So, as the eviction issue takes center stage in the Supreme Court and parties on both sides remain on edge, join us as we review the most recent COVID eviction guidelines below.
The End of the Federal Eviction Moratorium Guidelines
In late August, the issue of whether the CDC and government could continue to halt evictions made its way to the Supreme Court. Although it was not a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the CDC ban on evictions could not lawfully be extended. The 8-page court opinion cited that the CDC had overstepped its authority saying, “the CDC has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in reliance on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination.” It then went on to say that “it strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the C.D.C. the sweeping authority that it asserts.”
The effect of that decision means millions of tenants now face almost certain eviction if states do not take additional protective measures. Per the Supreme Court, any further action from the Federal government must come from Congress. However, it does not seem like there is anything on the agenda to address the issue further. Instead, the government encourages protections at the state level and more streamlined access to emergency aid.
What Can States Do to Protect Vulnerable Tenants Facing Eviction
Whether or not states will extend eviction moratoriums despite what happened on the federal level continues to be a divided issue. However, most jurisdictions agree that the answer to the problem is not mass eviction of the tenants. Thankfully, rent relief is available that can help tenants who fell behind due to pandemic-related financial stress stay in their homes. That said, not every situation will qualify, and the corporation needed between landlords and tenants has led to confusion for many. With that in mind, the goal of states moving forward with COVID eviction guidelines are as follows –
- Improve emergency relief program outreach across all platforms, including state or local websites and eviction summons
- Make efforts to streamline the application process and documentation needed to qualify for aid.
- In instances where landlords are unresponsive, including the option to release funds directly to the tenant.
- Support courts in developing processes to identify and link at-risk tenants with emergency aid programs and halt evictions where aid was applied for but is still pending.
- Emergency aid representatives should maintain a presence in court to further facilitate program application and outreach to landlords and tenants in need.
- Improve and expand staff allocations and partnerships with smaller agencies to more effectively process and distribute emergency rent relief funding
- Prioritize or fast-track applications for tenants at immediate risk of eviction
Who is Eligible for Rent Relief in Virginia?
So far, the Virginia Rent Relief Program has distributed over $300 million to help nearly 50,000 households avoid almost certain eviction. However, millions more are available. Thus, landlords may be eligible to receive up to 18 months of back rent in direct payments. Despite this, some renters and landlords are unsure how to proceed and who is qualified. Check out the state’s website for more details and review these basic qualifications below.
To qualify for rental relief, tenants or rentals must meet the following criteria –
- Household income at or below 80% Area Median Income
- Rent amount at or below 150% Fair Market Rent
- Loss of income-related directly or indirectly to COVID-19, or increase in expenses related directly or indirectly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To not delay processing, applicants must have the following documentation –
- Rental Agreement or Valid Lease
- Tenant/Landlord Ledger
- Tenant Income Documentation
- Landlord’s Virginia W-9
- RRP Landlord/Tenant Agreement
Landlords can begin the application process through Virginia Housing, or tenants can reach out through the RRP Support Center. Keep in mind, the key to making this process go as smooth as possible is cooperation between tenants and landlords.
What are the Current COVID Eviction Guidelines in Virginia?
At the federal level, the eviction moratorium has expired. However, in Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam recently took steps to extend protection amidst further efforts to get emergency funds into the hands of stressed landlords. In a continued effort to combat the eviction crisis, Governor Northam signed a budget bill that extends eviction protection until June 30, 2022.
However, landlords and tenants must understand precisely what this means and the specific COVID eviction guidelines that apply. The new order from the Governor and General Assembly took effect on August 10th and aimed to prevent nonpayment evictions. While some protections extend into the new year, the 60-day postponement allowing renters to postpone an eviction case with proof of reduced income will expire at the end of the month. So, let’s break down the new COVID eviction guidelines for Virginia below.
COVID Eviction Guidelines in Virginia
Under the new directive, landlords may not evict for nonpayment in instances where the tenant has faced pandemic related financial hardship unless the property owner –
- Provides tenants a 14-day nonpayment notice that also informs tenants about the Rent Relief Program, and
- During the 14-day notice period, applies for rent relief on behalf of the tenant or enters into a payment agreement.
In addition to the parameters above, landlords cannot evict tenants unless the following is true –
- Tenant is not eligible for the Rent Relief Program
- The tenants refuse to cooperate with the rent relief application process
- Application is not approved in writing within 45 days of submission
- Any subsequent application is not approved in writing within 14 days of completion
- The Rent Relief Program runs out of money
It is also important to note that landlords cannot evict a tenant who is complying with an agreed-upon, written payment plan. Additionally, landlords with more than four units must offer a payment plan to tenants. That said, smaller landlords with less than four units do not have to provide a payment plan. Instead, they must comply with the 14-day nonpayment notice and seek relief through Virginia’s Rent Relief Program.
Although there are eviction protections in place, these are for tenants with proof of financial hardship either directly or indirectly related to the pandemic. Evictions for other reasons such as a lease violation can move forward.
What Should Landlords Do Moving Forward?
While the Rent Relief Program brings hope to many struggling with the loss of rental income during the pandemic, the work is far from over. All states, including Virginia, are urging tenants and landlords to work together. Check out these tips below as you move forward navigating recent COVID eviction guidelines.
- Research What Applies to You – As guidelines change, local jurisdictions may have varying information that applies to landlords or tenants. Therefore, as the landlord, be proactive in determining what resources are available in your area.
- Foster Open Communication – Your landlord-tenant relationship may have suffered as a result of the pandemic. However, communication is vital to resolving nonpayment issues and obtaining relief where eligible.
- Verify Eligibility – Under the eviction protections, tenants must have suffered financial hardship related to the pandemic. However, able tenants should continue to pay their rent on time. Communicate with all impacted tenants to determine the extent of their situation. Also, remind them that rent is not forgiven, and any back rent is still due.
- Be Open to Partial Payment – Some rent is better than none in the current situation for many landlords. After all, if a tenant cannot pay rent, chances are other bills are also behind. Therefore, consider setting up a payment plan to accept partial payment. Thus, taking a positive step for both sides to move forward.
- Protect Your Assets – Many landlords rely on rental income to pay their mortgage and may be behind themselves. If that is the case, reach out to your lender and research what programs may be available to assist during this difficult time for everyone.
A Landlord’s Best Protection in Eviction Proceedings
Dealing with lost income is stressful for landlords, even without the changing COVID eviction guidelines. While it can be challenging to remain updated on applicable restrictions and requirements, help is out there. In addition, the pandemic has brought into sharp focus for many that being a landlord is a full-time job.
At Bay Property Management Group, we understand the problems both owners and tenants face. Our dedicated team strives to bridge the gap while protecting the owner’s valuable asset in the process. In addition to staying current on all changing guidelines, our experienced property managers facilitate all daily tasks, including marketing, leasing, maintenance, accounting, and customer service. So, if you have a non-paying tenant, have a vacancy, or just need help managing the day-to-day – give us a call today to learn more about our full-service approach to rental management.