Housing Justice for Tenants 

By Kierra Johnson 

Renters’ crises, infrastructure issues, and displacement due to rising costs and gentrification were major issues across the U.S. before the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, we are still in a crisis and it seems that the losses that landlords took during the first year of the pandemic have compounded and come down on tenants even more than before. This legislative session, there are several bills that aim to remedy some of the issues that both tenants and landlords face during rental agreements. Collectively, they cover a wide range of possible conflicts that could happen, so it is in the best interest of tenants that the bills are passed together to ensure relief for those who are being affected by the housing crisis. 

Although the language of HB 442 states that it is centered around a landlord remedy, the purpose of the bill still benefits tenants. It states that, depending on the landlord’s qualifications, if a tenant is one month behind on rent, then the landlord and their tenant can apply the balance to a payment plan that would be added to the remaining balance of the rental agreement. This would prevent the immediate eviction of someone who is behind on rent because of one month’s fees, which would be a tremendous help to tenants who only need a small amount of time to bounce back from financial difficulties.

The Landlord and Tenant Fairness Act aims to hold qualifying landlords to certain standards that include methods of advertisement, application fees, and rental agreement terms. If these standards are executed with the intent to protect tentative tenants, it could curb the progression of deceptive practices such as excessive application fees and predatory rental practices. This has been a huge problem for tenants in Virginia, as well as other states, as many landlords have doubled and tripled their prices to recuperate from the losses caused by Covid-19 rental moratoriums. It has also become the cause of mass displacement as many cities around the country are being gentrified, which has incentivized landlords to price out lower income tenants. 

In the specific interest of protecting tenants, HB 247 says that it “materially affects the health and safety of the tenant”. The bill allows for tenants to file a civil suit against their landlords if they do not comply with the rental agreement or any provision within the bill. This would be another major win for tenants, as deceptive rental practices have left many tenants without protections. There needs to be a sufficient list of provisions that protect tenants, as eviction and displacement directly affects their health and safety. 

There needs to be more regulation in place to promote a better environment for tenants overall. This includes legislation and business practices that promote affordable housing during an age of price gouging and gentrification. There also needs to be more investment in the infrastructure, as slumlords are able to take architectural shortcuts to save costs, while tenants pay the ultimate price with their safety. The housing bills that have been introduced this year include some great provisions for the protection of tenants, and hopefully, given the Democratic majority in both chambers, they will pass. The improvement of housing as a human need requires much more than effort, but the potential behind these bills to change the scope of housing in Virginia is tremendous.  

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