(The Center Square) – Landlords are asking the Virginia Supreme Court to reduce legal hurdles for evictions by clarifying the current laws under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium.
The CDC’s eviction moratorium suspended evictions nationwide if a tenant cannot pay rent because of economic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and has sought rental assistance through federal, state and local programs. If a tenant provides a landlord with a declaration form that shows the tenant is covered under these protections, the landlord cannot proceed with an eviction.
Courts have not interpreted the language consistently. Some courts have required landlords to provide a signed affidavit that they have not received this declaration if they are to proceed with an eviction. Other courts have said the language only puts a burden on the tenant to prove that he or she is covered by these protections in the eviction proceedings and there is no burden on the landlord to provide an affidavit to the court.
The Virginia Apartment Management Association wrote a letter to the Virginia Supreme Court asking it to clarify the law under the CDC’s order. In the letter, VAMA President Pat Shumaker and CEO Patrick McCloud said the language does not put any burden on the landlord, and courts should not be able to impose that burden. They said the affidavit requirements impede the operations of the courts and assert their rights to enforce contracts they lawfully entered with tenants.
Shumaker and McCloud also asked the court to suspend court-ordered requirements for landlords to provide an affidavit that says they have not received a declaration form or to provide an affidavit that says the property is not covered under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
“As Virginia’s housing providers continue to try to do right by our residents, by our employees, and above all by the law, this clarity is sorely needed as all parties deserve access to our courts and adjudication of disputes free from predetermined bias,” Shumaker and McCloud said in the letter.
Landlords have been blocked from evicting certain tenants who have not paid their bills in months. McCloud told The Center Square that landlords have been forced to provide services to people without any compensation, which has forced some landlords to pile up debt. He said the varying interpretation has caused confusion for landlords and that clarification can help prevent tenants from taking advantage of the situation even if they are not covered by these protections.
Christie Marra, the director of Housing Advocacy for the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC), told The Center Square this would hurt tenants and courts simply are asking landlords to demonstrate they have the legal authority to evict. The VPLC is a nonprofit that advocates for low-income Virginians.
“Tenants facing eviction can’t afford to hire private attorneys,” Marra said. “So, since there aren’t enough legal aid and pro bono attorneys to represent these tenants, they represent themselves. They don’t know the rules. They don’t know they need to bring copies of their CDC declaration and termination notice.”
The Virginia General Assembly is working on legislation that would apply restrictions to landlords and protections for tenants after the federal moratorium expires.