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First came the pandemic. Then came the due dates for rent.
Amidst the state-ordered closure of nonessential businesses and educational facilities, some area residents are facing furloughs or being laid off from their jobs, making the prospect of paying rent an additional fear during a public health crisis. While some landlords or property managers are offering various payment options, others offer a lack of clarity as residents wonder if they will face eviction or owe large sums of money down the road.
Michael Witcher, who was laid off from The Villa Diner early in the COVID-19 pandemic, has become worried about paying rent and buying groceries. He applied for unemployment on March 16 and was approved for $219 every two weeks. Witcher says he should be receiving his first check soon.
Villa co-owners Ken and Jennifer Beachley have closed their restaurant for the time being and launched a GoFundMe, to which they contributed the first $2,500, in order to raise funds that can help their staff.
“We have 13 full-time employees and four part-time. The goal is to raise $1,000 for each full-timer and $500 for each part-timer, for a total of $15,000,” the post reads. “All funds raised will be given to our staff directly, with $0 funds going anywhere else, including Jennifer and me.”
As of early Wednesday afternoon, the fundraising campaign is about $2,000 shy of its $15,000 goal. In the meantime, Witcher has reached out to the company managing where he lives about his rent and is awaiting a response.
“I talked with someone [recently], and they said someone will get back with me as soon as possible but that they were a little bit behind,” Witcher said.
Meanwhile, Cville Community Cares recently penned an open letter to area landlords, asking that they waive rent for residences, nonprofits and small businesses during the pandemic.
“If you don’t charge rent during this crisis, you will be helping your tenants and strengthening the health and wellness of our entire community,” the letter reads. “Allowing them to shelter-in-place like everyone else, rather than having to go out and spread or risk contagion because they need to eat and pay the rent, is an incredibly effective way to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”
Most evictions are temporarily suspended at least through April 26, 2020, due to a Supreme Court of Virginia order. Some fear that, if they cannot afford their rents during the pandemic, the moratorium could just mean evictions are inevitable. Beyond the scope of the state’s Supreme Court order and governor’s declared state of emergency, there are still little answers to what future evictions could look like.
According to a recent fact sheet produced by the Legal Aid Justice Center and Virginia Poverty Law Center concerning residents’ rights during the pandemic, landlords cannot evict residents without a court order, and landlords can be sued if they try to evict residents without going through the court system. Landlords also must provide residents a safe and healthy place to live, though they may not be able to enter residents’ units for repairs “unless it is an emergency” according to the fact sheet.
For residents living in public or subsidized housing, those whose incomes have changed due to a reduction in hours or layoff from a job are encouraged to alert their landlords immediately. According to the fact sheet, organizations have “changed their procedures for recalculating rent to make it easier for people.”
The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and the Piedmont Housing Alliance have suspended evictions and are not charging any late fees to residents. PHA also has an existing eviction prevention program that residents can enroll in.
But some area residents still are seeking clarity with their landlords on general rent payment options if they cannot afford to pay in full at this time. Some residents in the area have received details about their payments in the interim, such as residents of Granite Park which are operated by BH Management Services. Their tenants received an email alerting them to flex payment options, where they can set up smaller payments throughout the month. Granite Park also urged residents who feel they could not make their rental payments to reach out to the property’s staff by phone or email to discuss various payment options. Similarly, MSC sent an email to its residents urging anyone who is facing financial difficulties during the pandemic to contact management.
“We value all our residents and will support efforts by our leaders to help support members of our community during this pandemic,” the letter from MSC said. “We are all in this together, and if we work together, we can weather this storm.”
Federally, U.S. Congress passed legislation that grants most Americans a $1,200 check and, for those already on state unemployment, an additional $600 per month through the end of July. This week, Gov. Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order through June 10, that can be shortened or extended based on how the COVID-19 spread plays out. In a Wednesday press conference Northam said the virus is expected to peak in Virginia somewhere late April and late May.
Though residents can receive financial help from various levels of government and charitable efforts in the area, there is still concern that it will not be enough for some residents.
“Those already living paycheck-to-paycheck are losing their jobs and simply don’t have the money to pay rent and eat,” the Cville Community Cares letter reads. “Funds from the federal stimulus bill, once they arrive, will still not come close to covering the needs that we are witnessing in our day-to-day relief efforts.”