Poll: Virginians overwhelming support giving tenants more than a week to pay late rent

Deputies from the Henrico County Sheriff's Department process an eviction on July 12, 2018. The tenants had already departed and the deputies, after checking the unit to make sure it's empty, watch as the owner changes the unit's locks.

Virginia legislators passed seven laws earlier this year aimed at curbing the state’s highest-in-the-nation eviction rates. New polling suggests state residents strongly support going further.

Three quarters of residents surveyed by Virginia Commonwealth University last month say they support changing state law to give tenants at least two weeks to pay rent before a landlord can sue to evict them.

Currently, landlords can initiate legal proceedings to remove a tenant with five days’ notice. Advocates proposed legislation that would extend that time period to 14 days. The thinking is that most people are paid every two weeks and an incoming paycheck would give tenants who fall behind a chance to catch up before they’re taken to court, where legal fees begin to stack up.

Landlords opposed the measure because they say it can already take months to successfully evict a non-paying tenant, and that extending that time further would hurt their bottom-line and in some cases jeopardize their ability to pay mortgages on the property they’re leasing.

Most respondents (78%) also supported policies that would make it easier for tenants to withhold rent when landlords don’t make necessary repairs. Currently tenants must continue to pay rent into an escrow account at their local courthouse, a complicated process advocates say is rarely used and requires continued payment for a home that may be unlivable.

The poll, conducted by the Center for Public Policy at VCU’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, surveyed 816 residents in landline and cellphone calls between June 9 and 19. The margin of error is 3.43 percentage points.

The poll found 78 percent of respondents see “housing affordability as a problem in America today” and a third knew someone who had faced eviction, foreclosure or otherwise lost their housing.