On February 28, 2019, Virginia’s governor signed into law seven bills affecting landlords in Virginia. Each of these laws goes into effect on July 1, 2019. Several other bills have been passed by the Virginia House and Senate during the 2019 Virginia Legislative Session and are currently awaiting the governor’s signature to become law. Each of these is outlined below.
Signed by Governor and Effective July 1, 2019
Right of Redemption – Va. Code § 55-248.34:1(D)
The law: The Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act’s (VRLTA) current redemption law allows a tenant in an unlawful detainer (UD) case to pay all amounts due to the landlord on or before the first court date in order to redeem the property, which requires the landlord to dismiss the case against the tenant. As of July 1, 2019, a tenant will have the extended right to redeem by paying via cashier’s check, money order, or certified check all amounts claimed on the summons for unlawful detainer up to two business days before the scheduled eviction date.
The Impact: While we expect this amendment to impact all of our clients, a large number of landlords already agree to cancel evictions if payment in full is received before the eviction date. The real potential downside with this amendment is the lack of clarity. The language of the amendment does not require all amounts be paid to the landlord in order for the redemption to take effect two days prior to the eviction date. Rather, the language only requires the tenant to have paid what was listed on the summons, which is often substantially less than what the tenant owes by the time the court awards judgment or an eviction is scheduled.
Writs of Possession – Va. Code § 8.01-470, 471
The law: Currently, once a court has awarded judgment in favor of a landlord, a landlord may file a writ of possession to evict a tenant within one year from the date of judgment. Effective July 1, 2019, a writ of possession will instead be called a writ of eviction and may only be issued within 180 days from the date of judgment. Additionally, if the sheriff fails to execute the writ of eviction within 30 days from the date the clerk issues the writ to the sheriff, then the writ shall be vacated. Furthermore, a writ shall not be issued where a landlord has entered a new lease agreement with the tenant following entry of the judgment.
The impact: Landlords and the courts can expect to see many more UDs filed against “repeat offender” nonpaying tenants. Landlords have had the opportunity to file for second or third writs of possession, depending on jurisdiction, up to a year after a judgment is entered. The July 1st change will only give the landlord that right for 180 days (or approximately 6 months). Once that period passes, a landlord will need to begin the UD process over again.
Summons for Unlawful Detainer – Va. Code § 8.01-126
The law: The Virginia Code currently provides that the initial return date on a UD case shall be heard within 21 days from the date of filing or as soon as practicable thereafter. As of July 1, 2019, the law changes to require that the case be heard within 21 days from the date of filing, but if that is not possible, then no more than 30 days after the date of filing. The amendment also requires that the landlord amend the amount sought to include all amounts due through the court date, and allows the court to dismiss a subsequent UD filed for rent that could have been included in the first UD action. This code section has also been amended to require that the landlord present to the court a copy of the termination notice that the landlord issued to the tenant.
The impact: Landlords should see little negative impact from these amendments. Virginia courts have already been requiring landlords to provide a copy of the termination notice in order to prevail in court, and we already request rent through the court date as part of our money judgment request. Landlords stand to benefit from the required initial return date hearing of 21-30 days after the date of filing, which will ensure that the matter is heard on an expedited basis as intended.
Lease Terms – Va. Code § 55-248.7
The law: Currently, if a written lease agreement is not entered between a landlord and tenant, then the tenant is required to pay rent equal to the fair market value of the property. Effective July 1, 2019, the VRLTA is amended to require a landlord offer a written lease agreement to a tenant, but if one is not offered then the new law specifies the terms of an unwritten lease agreement to include: the lease term will be 12 months, rent will be paid in 12 equal payments in an amount agreed upon or fair market value, a late fee shall be paid if rent isn’t paid by the fifth day of a month, and the landlord may collect a security deposit.
The impact: This amendment likely has little to no impact on our clients, who always execute written lease agreements. However, this could be beneficial to a landlord without a written lease agreement as it permits a landlord to collect late fees and a deposit.
Housing Vouchers – Va. Code § 58.1-439.12:04
The law: Currently this code section only applies to Richmond landlords and provides participating landlords with a tax credit of 10% of the fair market rental value of the qualified housing unit. Effective July 1, 2019, this law is changed to include the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News Metropolitan Statistical Area where fewer than 10% of residents live below the poverty level.
The impact: Landlords in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News Metropolitan Statistical Area may reap the tax benefits of this housing program that until now was only available to Richmond area landlords.
Approved by House and Senate; Awaiting Action by Governor
Renter’s Insurance – Va. Code § 55-248.7:2
The law: The VRLTA currently allows a landlord to require in the lease that the tenant obtain renter’s insurance. If signed by the governor, then effective July 1, 2019, if a lease does not require the tenant to obtain renter’s insurance, then the landlord must provide a written notice to the tenant stating that (i) the landlord isn’t responsible for the tenant’s personal property, (ii) the landlord’s insurance policy does not cover the tenant’s property, and (iii) the tenant should obtain renter’s insurance if he/she wishes to protect his property. Additional requirements for the notice are laid out in the amendment.
The impact: This notice requirement will be an administrative burden for larger landlords. As a result, we advise including language in your lease agreements that requires the tenant to obtain renter’s insurance so that this amendment does not apply to you.
Attorney Fees – Va. Code § 55-248.27
The law: The VRLTA outlines the tenant’s assertion process and potential remedies for a successful claim brought by a tenant against a landlord. The current code section does not include attorney fees as a potential remedy available to a tenant; however, if signed by the governor, then effective July 1, 2019, the VRLTA will specify that the court can award a tenant his/her court costs and attorney fees if the tenant is successful in a tenant’s assertion claim.
The impact: Attorney fees in tenant’s assertion cases often exceed a few thousand dollars and quickly add up, so this amendment clearly benefits tenants to landlords’ detriment if the tenant prevails in a tenant’s assertion claim against a landlord.
Signature of Pleadings – Va. Code § 16.1-88.03, 55-246.1, and 55-248.4
The law: Virginia law currently allows a property manager or managing agent of a landlord to sign pleadings and other legal documents and to obtain a judgment on behalf of the landlord. If signed by the governor, then effective July 1, 2019, the law will be amended to require that a written property management agreement exist in order for a property manager or managing agent to sign papers or other legal documents or to obtain judgment on the landlord’s behalf.
The impact: Property management companies should anticipate that this will be signed into law and should confirm that a current effective management agreement exists for each of the landlords it services. Without such an agreement, management companies cannot act as a landlord’s agent with respect to signing pleadings and other legal papers or obtain judgment on the landlord’s behalf.
Pilot Program – Va. Code § 55-248.40:1
The law: This would be a brand-new law which will go into effect July 1, 2020 if the governor signs it into law. This law would apply to the cities of Danville, Hampton, Petersburg, and Richmond. The law establishes a “pilot program” intended to reduce the number of evictions of low-income tenants. A tenant in an unlawful detainer case must qualify to participate in the pilot program by appearing in court, paying at least 25% of the amount due on the court date, providing sworn testimony that he/she has sufficient funds to adhere to a payment plan, and explaining the reasons for being unable to pay rent. Furthermore, the tenant cannot have been late on rent more than two times in six months or more than three times in twelve months, and the tenant cannot have already participated in the pilot program within the last 12 months. If a tenant qualifies, then the landlord and tenant will enter a court-ordered payment plan, which will require the tenant to pay the remaining amounts due on the unlawful detainer case within the three months following the initial court date while continuing to pay rent within 5 days of the due date each month that the payment plan is pending. The law provides a method for a landlord to obtain judgment if a tenant defaults on the payment plan or current rent payments.
The impact: This amendment is intended to reduce eviction and homeless rates, which is beneficial to the overall economy of the state. However, landlords in Danville, Hampton, Petersburg, and Richmond may suffer financially from the program since they will not timely receive the full rent due to them. This pilot program is the result of substantial negotiations back and forth between lawyers and advocacy groups on both the landlord and tenant sides.
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