RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – A bill that would have allowed local governments to detain landlords whose units do not live up to their lease or fail to address the dangers on their properties has been defeated by a Virginia House committee in a near-bipartisan manner.
The proposal made by Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) and sponsored by more than a dozen other Democrats in the General Assembly did so received two Republican votes on Jan. 12, when a smaller panel agreed to refer it to the full committee.
But one of those Republican lawmakers, Del. Emily Brewer (R-Isle of Wight), voted against the bill when it was heard without debate in the General Law Committee of the House of Delegates on Tuesday.
Under the law, cities and counties would have had the power to seek an injunction and damages in a district court, requiring a landlord to maintain the unit “in a fit and habitable condition.”
For that to happen, the terms of the rental unit would have to constitute a “material breach” by the landlord of the agreement with the tenant.
Price’s bill passed the General Assembly last year. But it was opposed by Governor Glenn Youngkin (R), who said the legislation included “unnecessary and duplicate provisions‘ giving municipalities the power to enforce health and safety standards against landlords.
“What I think happened was a mix-up between what can happen with fire code violations and what can happen with fire code violations [Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code]Price responded when asked about the veto during the Jan. 12 meeting of the General Laws Subcommittee. “For the building code, for things that are hazardous to health, there is no such authority.”
According to the bill, the municipality could also have sought a court order and sued if the landlord failed to promptly remedy “a fire hazard or a serious threat to the life, health, or safety of tenants or occupants of the premises,” including a shortage of heat, electricity , hot or cold running water.
The law stipulated that the municipality had to inform the landlord of the problems and could only take legal action if it did not address the violations within a reasonable time. The court could have awarded the plaintiff damages.
When it came time to vote Tuesday, the proposal was not reported from the General Laws Committee in a vote almost along the party line.
Del. Carrie E. Coyner (R-Chesterfield), who voted to move the bill forward in the subcommittee, joined Democrats in supporting the measure.
“HB1650 was a direct response to concerns and lived experiences of unsafe and unhealthy living conditions. There are slumlords here in the Commonwealth who refuse to make necessary improvements and repairs for the health and safety of their tenants,” Price said in a statement after the bill was defeated. “MAGA Republicans made it clear that they would rather protect wealthy slumlords than tenants who desperately need healthy and safe homes.”