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After condemned building saga, Virginia delegate re-introduces tenants rights bill

House Bill 1650 passed through a subcommittee vote on the second day of the General Assembly, with a 5-3 vote.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A fight for tenants rights is back on the table in Virginia’s capital.

“My ask is simple: I ask you cast the same vote you did last year to protect the families that are in need of help," Del. Marcia Price told a General Laws subcommittee Thursday afternoon. 

Price (D--Dist. 95) introduced House Bill 1650 in subcommittee hearings on the second day of Virginia's lawmaking session. 

The bill, if passed, is a tenants rights package that would hold landlords more accountable through the court system in the Commonwealth. 

If it becomes a law, city governments would gain the power to go to court and force a landlord to make needed repairs to their buildings through a judge’s order.

It’s identical to a bill Price introduced last year, which made it all the way to the governor's desk before ultimately getting vetoed.

Now, Price can point to the months-long Seaview Lofts saga as evidence of why the bill is needed.

RELATED: SeaView Lofts residents still waiting to return home

In the summer of 2021, code violations including non-working elevators forced hundreds of renters of the SeaView Lofts to leave the still-condemned building. 

Despite months of repair efforts by the building's owner, the doors of the property are still shuttered, and Price says the bill could have prevented the issue altogether in the first place. 

“The city of Newport News actually got to step in a little more for SeaView Lofts, but it’s because of the unfortunate nature of having fire code violations, as well as building code violations and sprinkler systems and elevators," she said. 

For many other types of serious problems, the city wouldn't have taken the apartment complex's owner to court.

“This is not an ability as of right now," she added, saying that the complaints would have to involve a serious fire hazard or threat to life.

RELATED: 'Unmanageable mold problem' | Lawsuits against SeaView Lofts owner highlight recent history of problems

On a 5-3 vote, Price's bill made it out of the subcommittee stage and will now move to review before a full General Rules Committee. 

Here's the summary for this bill:

Provides that if a condition exists in a rental dwelling unit that constitutes a material noncompliance by the landlord with the rental agreement or with any provision of law that, if not promptly corrected, constitutes a fire hazard or serious threat to the life, health, or safety of tenants or occupants of the premises, a locality may institute an action for injunction and damages to enforce the landlord's duty to maintain the rental dwelling unit in a fit and habitable condition, provided that (i) the property where the violation occurred is within the jurisdictional boundaries of the locality and (ii) the locality has notified the landlord who owns the property, either directly or through the managing agent, of the nature of the violation and the landlord has failed to remedy the violation to the satisfaction of the locality within a reasonable time after receiving such notice.

So far, it has written support by more than 50 organizations in Virginia, including the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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