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Minimal changes in Virginia housing law as affordability crisis continues

Construction crews are seen working on the Carver Square condos
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Construction crews work on the Carver Square condos on Wednesday, July 5, 2023 in Richmond.

A 2022 report to the General Assembly said housing production has yet to recover from the 2008 recession.

New housing laws that went into effect July 1 made small changes to renters’ rights and landlords' responsibilities, advocates and legislators told VPM News.

“I didn’t see anything that I would say harmed tenants, I didn’t see much that would help tenants either,” said Martin Wegbreit, litigation director at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. CVLAS provides free civil legal aid, which includes extensive work on housing and evictions.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s “Make Virginia Home” housing plan, which was released just before the 2023 General Assembly session, targets increasing housing supply by loosening regulations on land use and zoning. Major legislation on housing proved to be a hard ask, though, since Republicans controlled the House and Democrats controlled the Senate.

“I think that we are primed to put some things in place next legislative session,” said Del. Michelle Maldonado (D–Prince William).

Maldonado, a first-time legislator, sponsored one of the numerous changes to the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act that became law over the weekend. Her legislation requires more notice on automatic lease renewals that include rent increases.

“Sometimes, that new rental amount was not something people could reasonably or even easily afford,” Maldonado said. “It would exacerbate, in many circumstances, the eviction rates.”

Other laws going into effect include those giving tenants a week to terminate a lease for a full refund if their housing is uninhabitable; another prohibiting providers from supplying fraudulent documentation regarding “assistance animals”; and one requiring landlords to provide 60 days’ notice if leases will not be renewed on certain month-to-month tenancies.

Many of these bills do not apply universally, creating regulations that apply to some landlords but not others, and some tenants but not all. One bill only applies to apartments with 200 or more units on a single piece of property, while another impacts buildings with four or more units.

“One thing I can say that the legal aid community and the Virginia Apartment Management Association agree on is: Why should a tenant’s rights depend on the size of their landlord?” Wegbreit asked, referring to a group lobbying on behalf of landlords. “Why shouldn’t the law apply uniformly to tenants regardless of how many units the landlord has?”

As of January 2023, there were approximately 25,969 dedicated affordable rental homes in Richmond. To eliminate the rent burden for low-income renters, almost 39,000 affordable homes are needed, according to the Partnership for Housing Affordability.

Another new law requires sheriffs to return executed writs of eviction to court clerks, meaning that more data on who is actually evicted by the sheriff would be gathered. But the data could miss many people who leave their homes on their own after receiving an eviction notice, Wegbreit says.

Advocates say the biggest problem is a general lack of housing and affordable housing across the state.

“In terms of really grappling with the problem … Virginia really hasn’t done the heavy lifting yet,” said Wegbreit.

Differing proposals have been proposed by the Virginia House, Senate and Gov. Glenn Youngkin for a statewide housing assessment — ranging from $400,000 to $500,000. But budget negotiations have stalled.

A 2022 report to the General Assembly said that housing production has yet to recover from the 2008 recession. Since 2008, Virginia’s population growth has outpaced new housing supply growth. Production peaked in 2004, when twice the number of housing permits were issued than in 2020.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
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