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Tenants urged to take advantage of rent relief as the end of eviction moratorium looms

With less than a month remaining of the last federal eviction moratorium extension, Charlottesville-area housing advocates are encouraging tenants in need to seek rent relief.

On June 24, President Joe Biden’s administration extended the nationwide Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention ban on evictions until July 31 to help millions of tenants unable to make rent payments during the coronavirus pandemic. However, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, cautioned that this will be the final extension of the moratorium.

One in three Virginia households is very or somewhat likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Locally and throughout most of Virginia, an increase in total evictions has not been seen in large part because of the various moratoriums, according to Caroline Klosko, of the Legal Aid Justice Center.

However, the center has seen trends, Klosko said, pointing to an increase in what they have dubbed pretextual evictions — evictions that purport to be about something other than rent but that likely would not have been filed if the tenant had been paying rent.

“A typical case will involve a tenant whose written one-year lease expired long ago — often years ago — and then converted to a month-to-month lease by operation of law,” Klosko said. “The pandemic hits after the month-to-month arrangement has been going on for a long time, and then the tenant loses his job and is no longer able to pay rent. The landlord in this situation will send the tenant a 30-day notice terminating the month-to-month arrangement, rather than the 14-day demand for payment or possession that is required for a nonpayment case.”

Courts in Charlottesville and Albemarle County have allowed these evictions to proceed, Klosko said, and LAJC attorneys also have seen landlords drum up questionable lease violations in order to remove tenants who aren’t paying rent.

“Everyone expects the country to make a full recovery from the pandemic, but this clearly has not happened yet,” she said. “We are still seeing a steady stream of cases, and homelessness still puts people at a high risk of serious illness. Everyone needs to be housed until the pandemic is fully behind us.”

After the CDC moratorium ends, Klosko said the LAJC expects to see a deluge of nonpayment eviction cases, with landlords unable to evict nonpaying tenants over the last 15 months all filing at once.

However, until Sept. 28, tenants who lost income due to COVID-19 can still show up at their first court date and get a 60-day continuance if they bring documents showing their income loss, Klosko said. Courts vary concerning the documentation that they require, she said, with some requiring a letter from the tenant’s employer or paystubs showing the decrease and others accepting an affidavit from the tenant.

The LAJC has continued to urge tenants to contact them for assistance and to seek aid through rent relief programs, though the recent expiration of Virginia’s state of emergency has complicated that.

The order, which expired Wednesday, required landlords to notify tenants about how to apply for rent relief through the state’s program, or apply for money to cover payments owed by tenants.

In an effort to assuage this issue, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development awarded a $3.5 million grant to a team of organizations led by Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The organizations are tasked with reaching renters facing eviction who have struggled to attain the rent relief they qualify for because of language or other barriers.

As of mid-June, the state has paid $263.7 million in federal and state relief funds for about 41,400 renter households, according to data provided by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Tommy Herbert, a spokesman for the Virginia Apartment and Management Association, which Herbert said represents more than 100 properties in the area, also pointed to Virginia’s rent relief program as a potential resource for tenants in need.

“The stated reason for the extension was for rental relief programs to be stood up nationwide, and those seeking to use the CDC moratorium must affirm that they are taking best efforts to obtain rent relief,” he said. “Virginia has an excellent rent relief program that is firing on all cylinders and should be a first resort for any housing provider facing a nonpayment issue anyway.”

Unlike the LAJC, Herbert said VAMA does not anticipate mass evictions following the end of the CDC’s moratorium, pointing to relief resources currently available.

“There will be some increase relative to what we have seen since the beginning of the pandemic, undoubtedly,” he said. “Given, however, that the resources backing rent relief are so plentiful, and obtaining an eviction is still such an expensive, long and uncertain process, we expect most housing providers to continue to take advantage of the opportunity to be made whole and keep residents in their homes.”

Households that are behind on rent can check their eligibility for assistance at dmz1.dhcd.virginia.gov/RMRPEligibility.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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