Business Law Insights

The Virginia General Assembly has attempted to make the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act fairer to tenants by passing several bills that will take effect this July and are aimed at reducing evictions.

For example, in order to clarify the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants, HB2054 will require written leases for residential tenancies. In the absence of a written lease, several default provisions will apply including that 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. This change isn’t likely to have much effect on landlords who already utilize written lease agreements.

HB1922 and SB1627 will require the landlord to prove proper notice of a pending eviction before the court can order possession to the landlord. If rent becomes due after the landlord files for eviction, the landlord must amend an existing unlawful detainer rather than filing a subsequent action. Again, the impact of this law is unclear as most of our client landlords already provide proper notice of eviction.

Whereas former law allowed a tenant to pay all amounts due to a landlord on or before the first court date in order to have the case dismissed, as of July 1, 2019, if a tenant can pay rent, fees and court costs at least two days before a scheduled eviction, SB1445 and HB1898 will allow the tenant to stay in the home. A tenant can only use this right of redemption once every 12 months. Typically, landlords already agree to cancel evictions if the tenant is current, so the impact of this law is uncertain.

HB2007 and SB1448 will require landlords to execute on a writ of possession, which will now be called a writ of eviction, within 180 days instead of the previous 12 month time frame. Since an order of possession will expire in 6 months, a tenant may be able to catch up on back rent after an order of possession is entered. If the parties are able to reach agreement and the landlord cancels the eviction, the writ of eviction will be vacated as a matter of law and the tenant’s credit report would show that past due rental payments were resolved such that the tenant does not have a black mark on housing applications. 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 will be vacated. A writ shall not be issued where a landlord has entered a new lease agreement with the tenant following entry of the judgment. Because of this law, we may see many more unlawful detainers filed against repeat offender nonpaying tenants. Whereas landlords have been able to file for second or third writs up to a year after a judgment is entered, now, the landlord only has that right for 180 days then must begin the unlawful detainer process anew.

Formerly, a tenant appealing to Circuit Court was required to pay up to a year’s rent into court as an appeal bond. Now, SB1626 will require the tenant to pay only the amount of the judgment as well as rent to the landlord as it becomes due in order to perfect an appeal.

The Virginia Legislature hopes that these changes will result in fairer treatment of tenants and reduce the number of evictions state-wide.

PLDR Law Amy Kawalski 1

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