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'A Horrible Situation': Housing Advocates Say Virginia Policy Leaves People In Hotels At Risk Of Hom

Written by Sam Turken for WHRO News.

Housing advocates say a Virginia policy is allowing people who live in hotels and motels to become homeless as they remain laid off amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A clause in the Commonwealth’s Residential Landlord Tenant Act identifies people living in hotels for more than 90 consecutive days as tenants. Therefore, they qualify under a new state measure that gives tenants about two months to catch up on missed rent before an eviction.

However, any resident living in a hotel for fewer than 91 days has no eviction protections and can be locked out soon after they miss a room payment.

"This arbitrary determination was not good policy," said Christine Marra, director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center. "It really hits you in a crisis like this."

The problem is widespread because many hotel residents have nowhere else to live. Thaler McCormick, CEO of ForKids – a Hampton Roads family homeless shelter — said they may have poor credit, criminal records, prior eviction history or cannot afford a security deposit for an apartment.

She said the shelter’s regional crisis hotline received about 2,500 calls last year from people living in hotels.

"Their hotels are very much the only option they have for a roof over their head," McCormick said. Marra noted Virginia already has some of the highest eviction rates in the country, and the hotel issue reflects a need for more affordable housing. In the shorter term, she added, the 90-day policy should be updated to cover anybody living in a hotel or motel, regardless of how long they’ve been there.

"I recently asked my legal aid attorneys across the state, ‘If you could change any one law, what would it be,'" Marra said. "There were a number of people who said the hotel and motel rule." Virginia is currently giving tenants a 60-day grace period to catch up on missed rent if they can prove they’ve lost money due to COVID-19. From mid-March through mid-May, the state also had a moratorium on all evictions.

The 90-day rule has prevented many hotel residents like Cydney Page from qualifying for the eviction protections.

Before the pandemic, money was already tight for Page.

She worked at a senior residential center, and she and her three children were li