Thousands of Virginians are at risk of eviction because they can’t afford to make rent amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the end of a statewide eviction ban in late June, local courts have been processing hundreds of unlawful detainer cases each week.

Some renters have been protected from evictions, thanks to a separate federal eviction moratorium for properties with federally-backed mortgages. Extra unemployment assistance under the CARES Act has also helped tenants pay rent.

However, both forms of relief are ending soon, which could leave many more people facing the threat of losing their homes.

Virginia already had some of the highest eviction rates in the country before the pandemic, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

Evictions can have lasting consequences beyond forcing someone out of their home. An eviction usually remains a part of a person’s rental record, which can make it harder for them to find a new place to live. Landlords are less likely to rent to someone with an eviction history.

In response to the housing instability exacerbated by the outbreak, Virginia recently launched a new rent relief program to help people pay off rent and avoid an eviction. But some tenants and landlords say they don’t know about the program or aren’t taking advantage of it.

Housing advocates want Gov. Ralph Northam to issue a statewide eviction moratorium to give tenants more time to learn about the program and receive assistance before they have an eviction hearing. Northam’s office says such action could face legal challenges that would get caught up in court.

The Virginia Poverty Law Center and state Del. Marcia Price held a virtual town hall Thursday evening to discuss tenants’ rights and ways people can avoid evictions.

They noted that in addition to the rent relief program, Virginia is providing tenants with a 60-day grace period to catch up on missed rent before an eviction if they can prove they lost income due to the pandemic.

Here are more details about ways tenants can avoid or delay an eviction:

Federal Eviction Moratorium

Congress passed a national moratorium that has shielded many renters from evictions since late March. It protects tenants who live in buildings or homes that are federally-subsidized or have a mortgage that has some form of government backing.

The moratorium only applies for non-payment of rent. A landlord can still evict a tenant if it’s for property damage.

The eviction ban expires after Friday, but renters have some extra time. Once the moratorium ends, landlords must give tenants 30 days’ notice before filing an eviction case in court. Therefore, a tenant who falls under the moratorium cannot be evicted until late August.

You can use this tool to determine if you’ve been covered by the moratorium. You can also try this resource.

If you are protected, and your landlord tries to evict you before the 30-day notice ends, make sure to show up to your eviction hearing in court and tell the judge you’ve been covered by the federal eviction ban.

Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program

The program launched in late June. The state has allocated $50 million to local governments and nonprofits. They’re responsible for screening applicants to the program and then directly paying landlords what tenants owe.

The financial assistance could help pay current rent and other missed payments dating back to April 1.

To qualify, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Show that you have an inability to pay rent or mortgage during the pandemic (a layoff, reduction in hours, or the loss of child or spousal support, etc).
  • Your rent or mortgage payment must be at or below 150% of Fair Market Rent, which is determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Have an income at or below 80% of the median income of your region.

You can start the online application here.

Once you finish answering a few questions, the application process will determine whether you may qualify. If you do, it will give you the phone number to a local nonprofit or government agency that’s providing financial assistance as part of the program. Call them.

Requesting a 60-day continuance

A new Virginia law lets tenants ask for a 60-day delay to an eviction hearing if they can prove to a judge they’ve lost income due to the pandemic.

What to do:

  1. Show up to court for your eviction hearing
  2. Bring written proof that you have lost income due to the pandemic. You may use the following:
    • A pay stub showing zero dollars in earning 
    • A furlough or reduced hours notification letter from your employer
    • A signed affidavit or written statement that you lost wages due to the pandemic. Some judges may not accept this, according to the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
  3. Ask the judge for a 60-day continuance of your case

Eviction Diversion Pilot Program

In 2019, Virginia’s General Assembly created a new pilot program meant to prevent evictions. It only applies to a few cities with high eviction rates: Danville, Hampton, Petersburg and Richmond.

The program launched in early July. In order to participate, you must notify the local court and judge that’s hearing your eviction case. You must explain why you’re behind on rent.

You can only receive relief if the eviction is related to nonpayment of rent. You and your landlord must also agree on how much rent you owe. You’ll be required to make an initial payment of 25% of your rent when you join the program. You’ll have to make additional payments as part of a payment plan with your landlord.

You will not qualify for the program if you’ve been late on rent more than two times in a six-month period or more than three times in a 12-month period.

What if you live in a hotel or motel?

Virginia law identifies people living in a hotel or motel for more than 90 consecutive days as tenants. Therefore, they have the same rent relief and eviction protections as any other renter. Hotels must receive approval from a court to evict them.

However, anybody who lives in a hotel or motel for fewer than 91 days is not considered a tenant. The hotel manager can change the locks and force them out without taking them to court. If the hotel has been the person's primary residence, the manager must still give them five days before forcing them out. 

Will there be more protections?

It’s unclear whether Virginia or the federal government will offer more help to renters. Congress is currently discussing another coronavirus relief package. Democrats have called for a $100 billion national rental-assistance program

Resources for more help and advice:

If you need further advice, contact the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s free helpline at 1-833-NoEvict.

You can also speak to a free Legal Aid attorney at 1-866-534-5243.