A recent court ruling striking down a national eviction moratorium could put pressure on Virginia officials to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars in rental assistance.

Last week, a federal judge found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority when it imposed the ban last year for people behind on rent because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ruling came as nearly 50,000 Virginians say they could face eviction in the next few months. 

The moratorium will continue for now while the Justice Department appeals the court’s decision.

Christine Marra directs housing advocacy for the Virginia Poverty Law Center. She sat down with WHRV’s Sam Turken to discuss the fallout of the judge’s decision.

If the ruling stands, she said Virginia tenants can rely on the state’s eviction protections.

She said Virginia officials must urgently distribute financial assistance to tenants through its Rent Relief Program.

Listen to the interview, and find a full transcript below. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity:

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Sam Turken: Hi Christine. Thanks for coming on.

Christine Marra: Thanks for having me.

ST: The eviction moratorium was supposed to run until the end of June. Now there's uncertainty about whether that will happen. How does that affect tenants in Virginia?

CM: Our tenants here in Virginia had to two-ply eviction protection. Unfortunately, with the CDC moratorium potentially being completely invalidated and removed, they now have one ply. If we think of the top layer of protection as the state protections, that is the protection that requires the landlord to apply for rental assistance and does not allow the landlord to proceed with any sort of eviction action until forty five days after the rental assistance application is fully submitted.

ST: Now by rental assistance, you're talking about the state's rent relief program.

CM: Yes, but if something happens, right, and let's say the application is complete, but it doesn't get processed by the 45th day -- in that case, the landlord can file for an eviction, but if the tenant has given the landlord the Centers for Disease Control affidavit, then the CDC order is going to stop the sheriff from being able to put the tenant on the street.

ST: There have been reports of loopholes in the federal eviction ban. Can you talk about them?

CM: So the loophole that exists is that a landlord can still refuse to renew a tenant's lease. And so if a tenant is a "hold-over tenant" meaning that their lease ended on April 30th, but they didn't move out, the landlord can still file an eviction case based on that tenant staying beyond their lease. Now, what we have been arguing as tenants attorneys is that if that tenant who has stayed beyond the last day of their lease also owes rent, then we are arguing that this is really about the nonpayment of rent and the landlord cannot evict that tenant unless and until he applies for the rental assistance.

ST: State officials have taken other steps to help renters at risk of losing their homes during the pandemic. Earlier, you talked about the rent relief program, which helps tenants pay missed rent. What are your thoughts on the state's response?

CM: I think the state's response has thus far been very helpful. We have a lot of money, and in fact, I just got these figures. Right now, of the $540 million that Virginia received in emergency rental assistance from the 2020 stimulus package, we have spent $120 million, and tenants have been able to avoid eviction and avoid debt. But that still leaves $420 million from that plot that needs to get out to these landlords. We have asked for another $151 million that will probably be coming to us under the American Rescue Plan Act. It is definitely coming, but there's a process for the states to apply for it.

ST: You're referring to the most recent federal stimulus package that took effect this past March.

CM: Yes. Use the federal money that's come to Virginia, the federal money that will come to Virginia to help people get to the point where they can have a clean slate. That's what we need to do.

ST: That was Christine Marra. She directs housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. Thanks again for joining us.

CM: It's always my pleasure to talk to you, Sam. Thank you.