Advancing Tenant Rights and Affordable Housing

Advancing Tenant Rights and Affordable Housing

July 1st is rapidly approaching, which means that we are on the cusp of a new fiscal year and most of the new laws passed during the 2024 General Assembly session will go into effect for the first time. Each year, I like to provide my constituents with a highlight reel of these new changes so that they remain informed and well-prepared for the year ahead.

One of the key areas that saw progress this year is tenant rights and affordable housing. In a recent column, I discussed in-depth my work related to reforming the Virginia Manufactured Home Lot Rental Act and how these changes will help preserve existing manufactured (mobile) home parks as critical affordable housing and give park residents protection and more options when facing a park closure.

Several other efforts to protect residents facing eviction and to reduce overall evictions passed. The Eviction Diversion Pilot Program was extended for an additional year. This program is designed to create local and regional coordinated safety net to prevent evictions. In the event that an eviction cannot be prevented, the system works to divert evictions once a household has received an unlawful detainer. Another bill passed will give tenants the right to be notified by landlords of any increases in payments requested during the eviction process. Finally, HB 73 requires that courts automatically expunge dismissed eviction cases after 30 days. Having evictions on record can significantly impact a household’s ability to find new housing.

Several conditions already exist in law that afford tenants the right to terminate a lease agreement early, including active military service. As of July 1st, domestic or sexual abuse victims who have obtained a permanent protective order will gain this right if they need to move for their safety. Under current law, there must be a family abuse protective order or a conviction before a tenant may terminate their lease agreement.

Bills were passed to increase the maximum fine that localities can impose for repeated violations of the Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC). The USBC sets the building regulations that must be complied with when constructing a new building, structure, or an addition to an existing building and must also be used when maintaining or repairing an existing building or renovating or changing the use of a building or structure. This change will hold landlords accountable for holding up their end of lease agreements to provide safe and well-maintained dwelling units for their tenants. Additionally, an advisory group on Virginia’s USBC was created to revise the code to permit single-exit staircases in multi-family residential buildings under six stories tall. Single-staircase multi-family buildings are often easier to build on the irregularly shaped lots available in cities and allow more flexibility for units with multiple bedrooms suitable for families, making them another tool in the toolbox to address the housing shortage.

We increased tax credits available to landlords who rent to Housing Choice Voucher holders from $250,000 to $500,000. The program earmarks $100,000 of these funds for use in the more rural regions of Virginia.

In addition, policy groups were established to study current law and recommend changes in future legislative sessions. These include a workgroup on creating a Virginia Residential Development Infrastructure fund, which would cover costs associated with building roads, water and sewer extensions, and other utilities to support the construction of new needed housing development, especially in rural areas of the Commonwealth.

Finally, we passed bills to allow all localities in Virginia to set up their own Community Revitalization Funds to prevent neighborhood deterioration and address blight. Richmond is the only jurisdiction allowed such a fund under current law.

As we approach the new fiscal year on July 1, it's clear that the strides we've made in tenant rights, including for mobile home owners, and affordable housing will foster stronger, more secure communities throughout Virginia. These legislative advancements represent our collective commitment to ensuring that every resident has access to safe, affordable housing and the necessary protections to thrive. As we implement these changes, we can look forward to a future where housing insecurity is a thing of the past. We should all embrace these opportunities with optimism and continue to work to build a more inclusive and supportive Commonwealth.