Workshop sheds light on landlord and tenant rights

Workshop sheds light on landlord and tenant rights

By Heather Michon

About 20 people gathered at Fluvanna County Public Library on Saturday (Feb. 9) for a presentation on landlord and tenant rights.

Martin Wegbriet, director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (CVLAS) in Richmond, walked participants through the basics of tenant law, including fair housing, leases, nonpayment of rent, repairs and evictions.

The major takeaway from Wegbriet’s presentation was that tenant law is complex, and there’s no one-stop source for information.

One example is criminal history. There are no specific protections in fair housing law for people with criminal histories, and landlords are allowed to ask prospective tenants about their criminal record.

But Wegbriet cautioned: “Even though it’s a neutral question, it can have a disparate impact.”

African Americans and Hispanics are incarcerated at a disproportionate rate, and if a landlord had a blanket rule against renting to people with criminal histories, it could be a violation of fair housing laws.

“We’re not saying that you have to rent to anyone with a criminal record,” he said, but each applicant has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Wegbriet stressed that this is a contractual relationship, and both landlords and tenants have to abide by laws that ideally protect them both.

He also urged the audience to get information from legal experts, not just the internet. “If you Google something, it may be right, it may be wrong; it may be updated, it may not.”

According to the 2010 census, 15 percent of housing units in Fluvanna County are occupied by renters.

That figure may have grown in the past decade, and is likely to expand further with new zoning laws that allow the construction of multi-unit dwellings in the northern part of the county.

For those who were unable to attend the weekend session, Wegbriet will be repeating the presentation Thursday, March 14 at 6 p.m. at the Fluvanna Community Center in Fork Union.

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