The current COVID-19 crisis, business closures, and associated layoffs have created an unprecedented problem for residential tenants facing evictions — and for residential landlords seeking to re-acquire possession in Virginia. As of March 20, 2020, there were over 46,000 new unemployment insurance claims in Virginia1 and the unemployment rate in Virginia spiked to 3.3 percent,2 according to the most recent statistics from the Virginia Employment Commission – although this is still well below the national average. While the future remains uncertain, many Virginians may soon be facing evictions and in need of guidance and assistance to understand their rights and protect themselves. While this blog cannot possibly cover every possible legal claim or defense in a specific case, we hope to be able to help Virginians navigate through these uncertain times. In this blog, I hope to answer some of the most frequently asked questions I have seen from tenants and landlords about evictions during the COVID-19 emergency, and what is yet to come in the wake of it.
Are evictions banned in Virginia, during the COVID-19 emergency?
No, but all Virginia circuit and general district court hearings on evictions have been temporarily suspended from March 12, 2020 through at least May 17, 2020. On March 12, 2020, Governor Northam entered Executive Order Number Fifty-One, declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19.3 The Supreme Court of Virginia issued an Order declaring a judicial emergency beginning March 12, 2020,4 which has been extended through May 17, 2020.5 The Supreme Court’s Order provides that all “NON-ESSENTIAL, NON-EMERGENCY court proceedings in all circuit and district courts . . . hereby are SUSPENDED” for the duration of the judicial emergency (i.e., until May 17). Routine evictions — unlawful detainers and writs of eviction — are specifically listed as “non-emergency” matters in the Supreme Court’s Order, and accordingly any hearings on evictions are suspended, statewide, until at least May 18, 2020.6
Beginning May 18, 2020, Virginia courts may hear evictions if they determine it is safe to do so,7 which will be decided on a county-by-county (and city-by-city) basis.
The local general district court’s website should be consulted to determine when evictions may be heard and when cases will be rescheduled to. If you have an eviction case already filed against you, you should check with the clerk of court to determine what new date it will be rescheduled to.
Can landlords file evictions now?
Yes. Nothing prohibits landlords from filing new eviction cases – however, they will be unable to get a hearing on routine, non-emergency evictions until at least after May 18, 2020.
Do I still need to pay rent?
Yes. The declaration of judicial emergency temporarily suspends hearings on evictions until May 17, but it does not suspend the tenant’s obligation to pay rent. You should continue to make your rent payments if you are able to do so.
Can my landlord lock me out, if I miss a rent payment?
No. A landlord in Virginia may not lock out a residential tenant or terminate your essential utility services, even if you are not paying rent. The only way to lawfully evict a residential tenant is through the courts. Virginia Law provides that:
“A landlord may not recover or take possession of the dwelling unit (i) by willful diminution of services to the tenant by interrupting or causing the interruption of an essential service required by the rental agreement or (ii) by refusal to permit the tenant access to the unit unless such refusal is pursuant to a court order for possession.”8
So if your landlord has changed the locks on you, you should contact an attorney immediately. You may be entitled to relief from the courts — including recovery of possession of your home, money damages, an award of your attorneys’ fees, and return of your security deposit.9
If I miss a payment, what can I do?
Generally, if you miss your rent payment your landlord will send you a five-day notice to pay or quit. The notice will state that your landlord intends to terminate your lease if the rent is not paid in five days.10
If you pay all the rent and arrears due before the end of the five (5) days, your lease will not terminate. In addition, Virginia residential tenants can avoid an eviction by making a “redemption tender” at or before the first court date (i.e., the “return date”).11 In order to qualify, your landlord must be seeking eviction based on non-payment of rent, and you must pay all of the following:
- all rent and arrears due and owing, as of the first court date,
- any late charges provided in your lease,
- the landlord’s reasonable attorney’s fees provided in your lease,
- interest, and
- court costs. 11
A redemption tender can only be used once per every twelve (12) months. 11
Other defenses may be available to you on a case-by-case basis. For example, if your landlord has failed to comply with their duties under the lease, failed to supply an essential service they are required to maintain under the lease, misused the security deposit, or is suing for an incorrect amount of money, defenses to the eviction may be available.
I would strongly recommend that you talk with an attorney to discuss any defenses to eviction.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or are in need of assistance. You may call us today at 703-251-5400, email the author of this blog at NRozsa@SurovellFirm.com, or submit an inquiry here on our website at https://surovellfirm.com/contact/.
- Virginia Code § 55.1-1252.
- Virginia Code § 55.1-1243.
- Virginia Code § 55.1-1245(F).
- Virginia Code § 55.1-1250(B).
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