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Virginia renters facing eviction can get thousands in aid, but must apply quickly

Virginia courts ramping up eviction cases while legal aid attorneys explain how to apply for federal money.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Gladys Suarez has lived in her Reston apartment for 20 years with her daughter and 4-year-old grandson. When she fell behind on rent after COVID-19 affected her housecleaning job, a federal eviction moratorium gave her some peace of mind. 

Now that the moratorium has ended, Virginia eviction courts are busy processing the pandemic backlog of cases, and Suarez has found herself packing all her family's belongings into boxes, with her scheduled eviction just days away. 

"I need to leave this house, it doesn't matter if I have a place or not," Suarez said. "I have pain because I don't know what is going to happen with us."

There's good news and bad news for people in similar situations. The good news is that federal assistance in the form of tens of thousands of dollars is available, but the deadline to apply is rapidly approaching. And the bad news is that due toa change in the law, your landlord is no longer required to help you apply.  

Until the end of June, Virginia landlords were required by law to apply for federal assistance on behalf of their tenants, but that’s no longer the case. Renters are responsible for securing their own federal aid. And unlike other Virginia counties, Fairfax rental assistance has to be applied for over the phone (call 703-222-0880 Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), not online as landlords were able to do.  

RELATED: Some eviction protections remain for DC renters

Suarez was visited by a caseworker from Floris United Methodist Church on July 29 who told her that with an eviction notice already filed in court, it was too late to help her keep her apartment.

But Angela Brosen is an example of someone who did receive help in time, receiving $3,500 from a federal program run through Fairfax County after having to stop working her two jobs.

"I did contract coronavirus, but I was at home for 14 days, I had to quarantine," Brosen said. "The county was there for me, and there are people there for you."

Brosen reiterated that anyone facing eviction should reach out and take advantage of the resources available to them. 

"Don't feel bad about asking for help," Brosen said. " You don't have to feel like a failure. You don't have to feel like there's no one that's going to help you. You don't have to feel like you can't pay your bills." 

If you face eviction, attorneys say the following three steps can give you more time to potentially make a deal with your landlord:

  1. Ask the judge for a continuance of the case to apply for rental assistance. 
  2. Ask for a trial date, which will usually be one to two weeks later. 
  3. Ask for a “bill of particulars” to compel the landlord to show exactly what you owe.

"We've seen that the money has started to flow for landlords from the portal,"  attorney Nermin Abdelwahab with Legal Services of Northern Virginia said. "We have had people approved from the rental assistance program who are tenants applying directly, but it is slower than say the landlord portal." 

Abdelwahab estimated that from start to finish the process could take less than a month, but he encourages anyone who needs help to apply as soon as possible. 

For instructions to apply for rental help in Fairfax County, click here. If you want free legal assistance from Legal Services of Northern Virginia, call 703-778-6800 or click here. 

There is also a bill before the Virginia General Assembly meeting to once again require landlords to file for federal rental assistance on behalf of their tenants.

RELATED: Pandemic eviction crisis leads to greater tenant protections

RELATED: 'If I'm on the street, where do I go?' | Maryland mother says she's worried about eviction as federal moratorium ends

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