A bill that would expand Virginia renters’ right to settle outstanding balances and keep their housing and another measure that would expand foreclosure protections are headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.
Thrust into housing insecurity with the clock ticking toward the expiration of federal protections related to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of households around the state remain at risk of losing their shelter. State lawmakers from both political parties supported the measures aimed at ensuring residents have every opportunity to avoid eviction.
The Senate passed House Bill 2014, carried by Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, on a 25-14 bipartisan vote on Thursday. The measure would allow, as often as necessary, certain tenants facing eviction to pay all late payments, penalties and court fees and remain in their homes.
Under current state law, tenants can use the so-called right of redemption only once per 12 months, a stipulation that has contributed to renters losing housing even when they have covered all they owed, advocates say.
“There’s simply no reason for a tenant to have to move if the landlord has been made completely whole,” said Marty Wegbreit, director of litigation at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.
Wegbreit’s and other organizations have lined up behind Price’s effort, saying it will help curb evictions in a state that registered one of the worst eviction rates in the country, according to a 2018 Princeton University Eviction Lab analysis.
Price originally had proposed the expanded protection apply to all Virginia tenants. That raised concerns for some Senate Democrats, among them Sens. Chap Petersen of Fairfax City and George Barker of Alexandria.
In remarks on the Senate floor, Petersen said Thursday that he conditioned his support for the bill’s passage on the adoption of an amendment exempting tenants who rent from landlords with four or fewer units from the measure.
“This basically just takes [small landlords] out of the scope of the bill,” Petersen said of the amendment. “In keeping with my agreement with [Price], I ask that you support this bill.”
The Senate endorsed that change before passing the bill without further discussion.
The measure is one of two Price proposed this session that would strengthen protections for renters.
The other, HB 1889, originally would have made permanent certain tenant protections established during the COVID-19 pandemic by eliminating a sunset provision for July 1 of this year.
Under the bill, landlords with five or more units would be required to offer payment plans to renters who fall behind. It would also require them to wait 14 days, rather than five, to pursue an eviction against a tenant who missed a payment.
Advocates have said it would give households living paycheck to paycheck additional time to get caught up.
The Virginia Apartment Management Association, representing about 325 property managers statewide, opposed the effort earlier this session, saying that many tenants had defaulted on payment plans and that the measure could end up doing more harm than good.
In the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, Price said some senators had relayed concerns to her about the measure. To allay those, she proposed a compromise.
“Though I think there have been significant showing of how both of these provisions have helped prevent evictions, I would consider an amendment of extending the sunset by a year,” she told the committee.
The committee reported the bill with that change. If the amended measure passes the full Senate, Northam’s signature would extend the pandemic-era protections through July 2022.
With bipartisan support, the General Assembly also backed a measure carried by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, to expand foreclosure protections for Virginia homeowners.
The bill, SB 1327, would require mortgage companies to give homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments a 60-day notice. Under current state law, the companies were required to give only 14 days notice before initiating proceedings. In addition, the measure requires that companies notify borrowers of legal and other assistance available in their areas.
“Virginia must take action to protect homeowners from foreclosure during this economic crisis,” McClellan said in a statement. “This bill passed with bipartisan support to provide more tools and opportunities for homeowners to stay in their homes.”