This year's session of the Virginia General Assembly, which wound down last week, is noted as much for what it did not pass in the way of housing legislation as for bills its members approved.
The assembly defeated several measures that would have extended protections for renters, particularly those being displaced by conversions of their buildings to condominiums, cooperatives or commercial uses.
On the other hand, a bill that would have had a serious impact on public-housing tenants never got to the assembly floor. The proposal to permit local jurisdictions to dismantle their housing agencies was met with such a hostile reception when it came up for consideration by a subcommittee that its sponsor, Fairfax Del. Stephen E. Gordy, withdrew it. The Republican freshman said "people misunderstood the purpose of the bill."
The measure would have required a county or city that received a petition signed by 100 voters to hold a binding referendum on whether to deactivate its housing authority. If the vote abolished the authority, the agency's projects would be put up for sale, with no provision made for the tenants.
A small group of legislators, including several from Northern Virginia, champion the causes of renters. They were joined this year by freshman Del. Jay W. DeBoer, a Democrat from Petersburg, who said that he noted "a feeling among a number of legislators" during the session "that any landlord-tenant bill is a bad bill."
Alexandria Del. Marian Van Landingham predicted that tenant measures will become more palatable to legislators in coming years as condominium conversions spread to other areas of the state. A thousand units of rental housing in the historic Fan district of Richmond were converted to condos last year, including the Confederate Apartments, a former home for widows of Confederate soldiers, said Van Landingham.
The housing bills passed this year and taking effect July 1 include:
* A measure requiring landlords who have filed condo or cooperative conversion plans with the state real estate commission to inform prospective renters of these plans. Landlords also must disclose any plans they have to demolish apartments or undertake major rehabilitation. The bill was introduced by Van Landingham, who said, "We had cases last year in Alexandria of tenants who moved in and were not told that the place was going to be demolished."
* Legislation extending protection against retaliatory eviction for tenants who have testified in court proceedings against a landlord. The bill, sponsored by Arlington Del. James F. Almand, requires that tenants be compensated for actual damages, such as moving costs and lost rent payments.
* Legislation establishing that an owner who rents out five or more condominium units is subject to the Virginia Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. The state attorney general issued an opinion last year that condominiums were to be treated as apartments under the act, making all owners who rented even one condominium subject to the landlord-tenant law.
* A condominium conversion measure that shields tenants from being forced out of their apartments by renovation work before the end of the 120 days' notice period required under Virginia law. The law allows developers to begin renovation work after 45 days' notice, and the new legislation prohibits work that could "constitute an actual or constructive eviction," said Almand, its sponsor.
* Legislation that requires condominium owners to inform prospective purchasers of the nature of any lawsuit pending against the units, and to provide an updated copy of condominium bylaws to buyers. The measure was introduced by Del. Alan A. Diamonstein, a Democrat from Newport News. Until this bill passed, sellers were required only to disclose that litigation was pending.
* A bill that exempted from the state's Uniform Cooperative Act co-ops that receive federal funding. The federal money comes with so many federal requirements attached that coverage by the state cooperative act is not needed, said Almand.
* Legislation that tightens circumstances under which members of the military can break leases because of new assignments. Currently, military personnel cannot terminate leases until 60 days before they are to report to their new posts.
Measures that went down in defeat include:
A bill that would have extended the requirement of relocation payments for renters forced out of their buildings by conversion to commercial uses. The present law requires relocation payments to tenants being displaced by conversion condominiums and cooperatives. A similar measure introduced by Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. of Alexandria died in committee.
* Legislation that would have made landlords who own five or more rental units subject to the state's Landlord-Tenant Act. The trigger number now is 10 units. Sponsored by Almand, the measure has been defeated in General Assembly sessions for several years.
* An amendment to a law, enacted last year, that requires landlords to return security deposits to tenants within a month after they move out. This year, Van Landingham introduced the unsuccessful measure that would have penalized landlords who did not return tenants' money on time by preventing them from retaining any portion of the deposit they otherwise might have been entitled to keep.
* A bill that would have permitted courts to assess damages amounting to one month's rent for violations by either landlords or tenants of several provisions of the Landlord-Tenant Act. The bill, introduced by freshman DeBoer, was passed by the House of Delegates and the Senate. It then was recalled to the Senate floor and defeated after a "sudden and sustained lobbying effort by real estate brokers and the Virginia Home Builders Association," DeBoer said. graphics/1 photo: Alton Echol's plan for a 334-acre mixed development, Leesburg South, got a big boost from the legislature which approved a measure that is expected to lead to the area's annexation by Leesburg. While his project does not conform to Loudon County management plan, Leesburg's plan isn't complete and could be drawn to allow it.