By: Josh Veverka
With his signature of the revised state budget in November, Governor Ralph Northam directed additional funding to the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) and imposed modified restrictions on the eviction of tenants due to non-payment of rent for 2021.
Landlords and housing providers are prohibited from commencing eviction proceedings as a result of the failure to pay rent unless the tenant refuses to apply or cooperate with the landlord in applying for rental assistance through the Virginia RMRP. This eviction restriction mirrors the moratorium imposed by the federal government – set to expire January 31, 2021. With the approval of legislation in the recent General Assembly special session, Virginia imposed additional protections for tenants.
If rent is unpaid when due, all landlords and housing providers must send tenants written notification informing tenants of the Virginia RMRP program and providing information on how to reach 2-1-1 Virginia to determine any additional rent relief programs available. This written notice will also inform the tenant that the landlord will apply for rental assistance on behalf of the tenant or will cooperate with the tenant’s application.
Landlords who own or have a 10% or more ownership interest in more than four rental dwellings are additionally required to inform the tenant that they may enter into a payment plan to repay the past due amount in equal monthly payments over six months, or the remaining period of the lease, whichever is less. To be eligible, a tenant must provide the landlord with a signed statement certifying that the tenant has experienced additional expenses or a loss of income due to the declared state of emergency in response to COVID-19. This payment plan process codifies what has become the general practice of most landlords during the pandemic.
Before January 1, 2021, a landlord may only proceed with an eviction due to nonpayment if the tenant refuses to apply for relief or cooperate with a landlord’s effort to apply on their behalf.
After January 1, 2021, many of these eviction restrictions continue, but some will be loosened to give the landlord more options for seeking payment of rent or rent relief before proceeding with an eviction. Under the new legal requirements, owners of more than four rental units must continue to offer payment plans for the payment of past-due rent; however, this payment plan option may only be used once during the period of the rental agreement.
The most significant change to landlords’ remedies after January 1, 2021 is the ability to proceed with an eviction after the landlord has exhausted all options for seeking rental relief. Under this situation, if rent or a payment under a payment plan is unpaid when due, a landlord may send notice that that he or she intends to obtain possession of the premises if the rent is not paid within 14 days (this is extended from the standard five days notification). However, if rent relief has been applied for, the landlord must allow the Virginia RMRP or other relief program 45 days to provide written approval of funding for an initial application before proceeding with the eviction process. For any subsequent application for relief, an eviction may proceed if the landlord has not received written approval of funding within 14 days.
If the tenant refuses to cooperate with the landlord in applying for rental assistance, if the tenant is not qualified to receive assistance, or if there are no longer funds available from the rent relief programs, then the landlord may also take action to obtain possession of the premises after serving 14 days’ notice of eviction. These protections are currently set to expire on July 1, 2021.
The upcoming 2021 General Assembly will consider additional measures to extend protections for tenants. NVAR and the Virginia Realtors® will provide feedback and work with legislators on these issues.
Available Funding and How to Apply
The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief first launched at the end of June with $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to assist households facing eviction or foreclosure due to COVID-19. An additional $12 million in CARES Act funding was allocated to the program in October to ensure the program remained effective through December 31, 2020. Under the newly signed budget, an additional $12.5 million was allocated to continue funding the program in 2021, which will be added to approximately $30 million available for the program through a federal grant program. This allocation ensures at least $42 million in rental assistance is available for the RMRP in 2021.
Virginia Housing is administering this program through their online Grants Management System. Instructional guides are available on Virginia Housing’s RMRP webpage to assist in using the online GMS system; please go to www.vhda.com/RMRP to get started.
Note, that in order to receive financial assistance through the Virginia RMRP, tenants must meet the following requirements:
- Have a valid lease agreement in their name.
- The household’s total rent payment is at or below 150% Fair Market Rate. (Charts are available at Virginia Housing)
- The household’s total gross income is equal to or less than 80% Area Median Income for location. (Charts are available at Virginia Housing)
- The household has experienced a loss of income or increased expenses due to COVID-19
- The household cannot receive rental assistance from any other source, including, but not limited to, federal (including Housing Choice Voucher), state and local rental assistance programs, for the same period of time RMRP is requested.