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We care about the safety and wellbeing of our employees, clients, friends and communities as we continue to serve the needs of our clients.  Our offices remain open, although we are using alternative means of communication to replace in-person meetings. For more information on our firm’s operations and plan in response to COVID-19, click here or call us at 757-490-3000. Click here for helpful COVID-19 articles and resources.

Can Virginia Renters Be Evicted During the COVID-19 Crisis?

April 16, 2020

There seems to be a common belief that landlords may not evict residential tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most beliefs, it’s rooted in truth, but the details may be surprising.

On March 16, 2020, the Virginia Supreme Court made an emergency judicial order in response to COVID-19 that essentially put the brakes on all cases for 21 days.  On March 27, the Court extended the order by another 21days.  At the present time, all civil matters are continued through April 26, 2020.  While the order was made “to protect the health and safety of court employees, litigants, attorneys, judges and the general public” it had the effect of providing a moratorium on evictions.  It’s important to note that this does not mean that tenants are not responsible for their ongoing rent.  It also does not address late fees or other penalties for late payment.  

The $2 trillion relief bill, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), provides a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures from homes with certain federal housing programs or those with federally backed mortgage loans. The moratorium lasts for 120 days beginning on March 27, expiring on June 24.  A potential shortcoming of the CARES Act moratorium is that a tenant would not normally know if his/her landlord has a federally backed loan. Examples of a federally backed mortgage are Veterans Affairs (VA) and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans and those mortgages purchased or secured by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Note that this provision only applies to those with federally backed financing or those in federal programs. Also, important to note, the CARES Act only protects against eviction in the short-term.  Just as noted under the Virginia Supreme Court emergency order, the CARES Act does not stop rent from accruing, therefore, an eviction will likely follow when the moratorium ends unless the tenant is able to secure funds to pay.

The CARES Act also provides assistance to property owners with federally backed mortgages.  To qualify the landlord must assert that he/she is experiencing a financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people are currently calling for Congress to step in and provide federal assistance for homeowners and tenants alike.  While state law generally controls real estate matters, there is precedence for the federal government to legislate housing as evidenced in the federal Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968, which protects all people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, or seeking housing assistance.

Programs to assist those struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic are emerging every day.  Several bills addressing evictions have been introduced in Congress.  It is reasonable to expect that legislation providing rent relief or moratoriums on evictions may be forthcoming.  Anyone struggling to pay rent or mortgage should communicate, either directly or through a lawyer, with their landlord or mortgage holder.

Provided below are links to some helpful resources.

http://www.courts.state.va.us/news/items/2020_0327_scv_order_extending_declaration_of_judicial_emergency.pdf

https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/3548/text

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_act_overview#_The_Fair_Housing

https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/04/amid-pandemic-congress-suspends-evictions-but-not-for-all/

Kathryn Byler is a Pender & Coward attorney focusing her practice on real estate, business, guardianships, and estate planning matters.