More Hardship for Landlords in Virginia

The Virginian Pilot today recognized the plight of Landlords and Tenants and called out some very important new steps Landlords must take now to be able to evict non-paying tenants even AFTER the moratorium on eviction is lifted. Note that “5 day notices” must now be 14 day notices in many cases and you may need to show the judge that you tried to help your tenant get Cares Act or other local rent relief! Here is the article in full:

Eviction laws get more complicated
Many Americans are facing financial issues that can make it difficult to pay rent. While evictions were put on hold across the state briefly, the future seems uncertain for tenants and renters.
By Jonathan Edwards Staff Writer
Days after Christmas, landlords and tenants came to courthouses across Hampton Roads the landlords hoping to wrest control of the apartments they’d rented out; the tenants afraid of losing their homes.
One tenant was behind as little as $380 November’s rent. Another owed $16,800 after using every trick in the book to not pay his $1,400-per-month rent for a year. Meanwhile, many of the landlords had mortgages to pay with no money coming in, or at least less of it, and so they turned to the courts to try to reclaim their property so they could lease it to someone who could pay.
But the state?s eviction machine, one of the most prolific in the nation in kicking people out of their homes, stalled. In three courtrooms this week, dozens of landlords were turned away, judges in Hampton, Norfolk and Virginia Beach each saying state law prevented them from giving the landlords what they wanted until the new year.
But time was running out, one judge warned. A state ban on evictions was to expire Thursday. After that, judges will be free to effectively start ousting tenants again, he said.
It’s not entirely clear the state’s moratorium on evictions will be the last barrier in the process. Last Sunday, President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion stimulus bill into law that extends the Centers for Disease Controls eviction ban (a different moratorium than the one signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam last month), from Thursday to the end of January.
Landlords might get judges to give them the OK to kick out tenants come Monday, but they’ll have to jump through some new hoops to make it happen. The same state law that created the eviction moratorium from mid-November to Dec. 31 also added new protection for tenants in 2021. In the new year, landlords will have to give tenants 14 days notice before suing to evict, instead of the normal five days. In that two weeks, landlords then have to apply for taxpayer money to cover tenants’ back rent through the state’s Rent and Mortgage Relief Program before going ahead with an eviction.
On Tuesday, District Judge Elizabeth Foster in Virginia Beach already was asking landlords if they had applied for rental assistance through the program and warned them she wouldn’t be able to give them their properties back if they hadn’t.
Housing advocates say those hoops exist for very real reasons: One, kicking people out of their homes and potentially making them homeless could worsen a pandemic raging across the country. A recent study found evictions are linked to coronavirus deaths and cases, and are thus fueling the spread of the virus. Last month, a team of researchers released a report after studying 44 states that enacted eviction moratoriums. States who lifted their moratoriums earlier had roughly twice as many cases as those who waited, and coronavirus mortality death rates were 5.4 times higher.
And so the virus infected an estimated 365,200 to 502,200 more people than it would have otherwise, and killed between 8,900 and 12,500 more people, according to researchers from UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health and others.
Two, an economy waylaid by the pandemic has left millions with rent due but without the jobs and income needed to pay. Some experts have pegged the amount of back rent owed nationally at as much as $19.8 billion and expect it to grow to as much as $24.4 billion by next month.
On Wednesday, as landlord after landlord came into a Norfolk courtroom to try to evict tenants behind on rent, District Judge Joe Lindsey told them their missions were fruitless. They had sued weeks or even months earlier, stymied by a series of state and federal eviction bans spanning from the spring after the pandemic closed courthouses across the state into 2021. Still, those landlords came to court Wednesday, hoping the judge would hear their cases and award them possession of the property. It’s a necessary step to reclaim their apartments or houses and eventually have sheriff’s deputies come to physically remove tenants and their belongings.
One landlord complained about having to return to court in early January. It was hard and time-consuming to travel from Virginia Beach. He would miss out on more work and money. Plus, he didn’t understand why.
It is so confusing, sir, he told the judge.
Lindsey agreed.
The laws have changed dramatically in the last 45 days, Lindsey told them. Some things that used to be very simple and uncomplicated are now very complicated.
Some judges have said they don’t even want to do civil cases because (evictions have) become so complicated.
A day earlier, Jeffrey Moore watched as District Judge Corry Smith in Hampton dismissed four eviction cases. He said being unable to evict tenants is the reason he sold his eight-unit apartment building earlier in December. Before he did, Moore owned 10 units, the apartment building and two houses, and those were his only source of income.
If I’ve got four or five people not paying rent, I’m in trouble, he said, adding that he’s not a large real estate company that owns hundreds or thousands of units. It’s garbage what they’re doing. The small landlord has a lot to lose.
Like Moore’s tenants, most of those facing eviction lawsuits didn’t show up to plead their cases this week in Hampton, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. One in Norfolk who did show owes $5,500 for rent that has accrued from May through November. Citing the moratorium, Lindsey continued the case to January, meaning the man would not be forced to move. At least not yet. Lindsey told him he wasn’t out of the woods.
This is not a silver bullet for you. If you don’t have your affairs in order, there is probably going to be a very bad outcome for you.
Jonathan Edwards, 757-739-7180, jonathan.edwards@ pilotonline.com

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