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Keep the receipts: New law aims to protect renters against landlords who won't make repairs

Posted at 8:31 AM, Sep 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-29 08:53:31-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- At a time when Virginians are struggling through the pandemic, some don't want to rock the boat with their landlords when it comes to asking them to make essential repairs.

A new law on the books now gives those Virginia tenants more protection.

The law, which went into effect three months ago, allows you to make those repairs and deduct the cost - up to $1,500 from your rent.

“When they send that notification to the property owner, put it in writing and keep a track record of it,” Patrick McCloud, CEO of the VA Apartment Management Association, said.

McCloud's group was at the table when state lawmakers crafted this bill. He said it was a direct aim at slumlords who simply aren't making required repairs.

McCloud said he believed the need to even have this bill spoke to a much larger looming problem — the lack of affordable housing.

“It really should be a wake-up call to policymakers that we really need to think about how we get more affordable housing to people,” McCloud added.

Christie Marra, with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, called the repair and deduct option a benefit to tenants.

“The idea is for the tenant to be empowered to make repairs to their home that are needed to keep the home safe and healthy condition, but they do need to give the landlord an opportunity to make the repairs first, ” she explained.

That time frame is 14 days.

If the landlord doesn't take action, the tenant can hire a licensed contractor to do the work and present a receipt to the landlord. By law, the landlord must deduct the repair amount from next month's rent.

“If the tenant has the receipt and the tenant has a copy of the new law, then the judge is going to kick that case out," she said when asked what would happen if the landlord demanded full rent and took the tenant to court. "So, it really does start to level the playing field."

If they don't have money to do repairs, renters can get help from a church or non-profit which would get a licensed contractor to do the work pro bono.

The contractor can provide the renter an invoice for what they would have charged.

That invoice can be presented to the landlord, so the renter can still receive the rent deduction.