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Bill allows renters to make certain repairs if landlord doesn’t respond

A bill that gives tenants the power to make repairs on their property and deduct the costs from their rent, with conditions, recently passed the Virginia state Senate and is expected to advance in the House.

Capital News Service

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By Will Gonzalez

A bill that gives tenants the power to make repairs on their property and deduct the costs from their rent, with conditions, recently passed the Virginia Senate and is expected to advance in the House.

Senators voted unanimously in committee and on the floor to pass Senate Bill 905, introduced by Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, which gives a tenant the right to seek repairs that constitute a fire hazard or serious threat to the life, health or safety of occupants. Such conditions include the infestation of rodents and lack of heat, hot or cold running water, light, electricity, or adequate sewage disposal facilities.

Tenants would have the right to secure a contractor to fix the issues and deduct the cost from their rent.

First, the tenant would submit a written complaint to their landlord and allow them 14 days to fix the issue before the tenant secures a licensed contractor to complete the repairs. The tenant must provide documentation and itemized receipts of the repair to the landlord. The tenant would be allowed to deduct the costs of the repairs, not exceeding one month’s rent, from subsequent rent payments.

Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, proposed an amendment that was rejected during the Senate committee hearing, requiring the tenant to obtain two repair estimates.

Currently, state law allows the landlord more time to fix issues that compromise the health and safety of the tenant. The tenant can file a detailed, written complaint and give notice that the rental agreement will terminate on or after 30 days, if the landlord hasn’t fixed the issue within 21 days. If the problem is fixed, the tenant can’t break the lease.

A tenant, though legally empowered under current law to terminate the rental agreement would still, in most cases, need to have a deposit plus first month’s rent to secure a new place, which can present a roadblock for renters.

The Virginia Poverty Law Center noted its support of the bill and stated that in addition to speeding up the repair process, the proposed bill would reduce the number of cases in Virginia’s courts because tenants are given the opportunity to handle issues themselves instead of having to take landlords to court. Christine Marra, the group’s director of housing advocacy, said that the bill benefits tenants by allowing them to deduct the cost of donated repairs.

“There are a number of nonprofits across the commonwealth that do home repair for homeowners, but will not do them for renters because they don’t want to unjustly or unduly enrich the landlord,” Marra said. “I hope this will encourage them to start doing repairs for tenants.”

According to Elizabeth Godwin-Jones, a Richmond attorney who represents landlords, the original bill was too vague about what would constitute an emergency condition and how the tenant was allowed to go about getting the work done.

Now that the tenant is required to hire a licensed contractor and provide the necessary documentation, she said there’s little a negligent landlord could do to challenge their tenant in court and force them to pay their rent in full.

 “To me, the landlord already has a bit of a black eye, if it was something really serious and they didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” Godwin-Jones said.

Stanley patroned another renter’s rights bill, one which didn’t advance. The bill would have given tenants the right to use their landlord’s failure to maintain the property as a defense if they were taken to court for failure to pay rent.

Virginia’s eviction rates are among the highest in the country. Princeton University’s 2016 Eviction Lab study showed that five of the 10 cities with the highest eviction rates in the U.S. are in Virginia, and Godwin-Jones believes the problem is rooted in poverty more than it is in landlord-tenant legislation.

“To me, the biggest thing to help the eviction problem would be to raise the minimum wage and have more affordable housing options, but that’s terribly underfunded, and the funding hasn’t kept up with the increase in the rent,” Godwin-Jones said.

After making it to the House of Delegates, the bill was assigned to a General Laws subcommittee, which recommended advancing it. A committee on Thursday postponed hearing the bill because Stanley was still in the Senate and could not speak to the bill.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Downtown Rush Hour During COVID-19

Just a few shots from downtown at 8 AM on a Friday but most definitely not a normal Friday.

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Old Dominion Energy Building to Tumble Down on May 30th

And the walls will come tumbling down.

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Dominion Energy built a fancy new tower at 600 Canal Place. They’ve been slowing chipping away at the old building creatively labeled, One James River Plaza, located just across the street. Chipping away isn’t going to work for the entirety of the 21 story building.

The big show will be on May 30th when the office building will be imploded and it’ll come tumbling down.

The exact timing is unknown but it will be in the early morning hours and at least a one block are exclusion zone will be set-up.

Once the building is down and the area cleared the plans call for a new Dominion Energy building that would a mere 17 floors and connected with a skybridge. Those plans are not finalized at this point. For perspective, the new building at 600 Canal Place is 20 stories.

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Downtown

GRTC bans unaccompanied minors, joyriding on buses during coronavirus outbreak

Minors going to/from work permitted to ride; all passengers are limited to a single one-way trip at a time; “joyriding” prohibited.

RVAHub Staff

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Effective immediately, GRTC is banning unaccompanied minors from riding GRTC during the COVID-19 emergency. Solo minors in work uniforms or with their employee badges are permitted to ride GRTC to/from work. Until further notice, customers are not allowed to remain on-board a single bus beyond their one-way trip. No extended rides on a single vehicle will be allowed.

With the closure of schools and recent pleasant Spring weather, GRTC is experiencing an increase in riders – especially minors – riding GRTC in groups and for nonessential trips, counter to local, state, and federal guidance to limit travel only for essential purposes.

GRTC Chief Executive Officer Julie Timm says, “Immediately after suspending fares, our ridership jumped by several thousand trips a day. Some were kids out of school with energy to burn and some were people wanting to enjoy the beautiful Spring weather. But some were budget-conscious people looking for employment, making trips to the grocery store, or going to the doctor. While overall daily ridership is still well below normal levels, we need to take additional measures for those who desperately need our service during this crisis.”

In addition to limited trips and restricted rides for minors and groups, passengers are asked to sit one passenger per row, except for families riding together. Passengers in violation of these temporary policies or otherwise disruptive to our service are subject to removal from the bus. Timm explains, “While it’s completely counter to our normal lives to beg people not to ride, that is exactly what we are doing. Serving the community’s very real and very essential mobility needs during this crisis is a juggling act. Please, save our service for those who need our service!”

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