In Virginia, landlord tenant relationships are governed by the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA) when the tenant lives in a single-family residence, multi-family residence, and specific public housing units. The VRLTA states all rights and responsibilities, and protections afforded for both the landlord and the tenant. In addition, both tenants and landlords are subject to common law principles recognized by Virginia state courts.
The VRLTA requires that all landlords provide all tenants with a Tenant Rights and Responsibilities Statement. This form must be signed by both parties who acknowledge the receipt of the form by the tenant. Once the form is signed, the rental agreement becomes effective, and the landlord must provide signed copies of the Statement of Tenant Rights and Responsibilities and the written rental agreement.
Statement of Tenant Rights and Responsibilities
The Statement of Tenant Rights and Responsibilities is required for a landlord to file a lawsuit against a tenant in Virginia. The tenant needs to know what duties and protections he is offered under Virginia law to avoid being taken advantage of by a landlord. Provisions of the Statement of Tenant Rights and Responsibilities include:
- Non-refundable application fee and refundable deposit fee: a landlord can charge no more than $50 for a non-refundable application fee, and any deposit fee must be returned to the tenant where he does not rent a unit.
- The landlord is required to provide a written lease: where the landlord fails to provide a written lease, the statutory lease under the VRLTA will govern the tenancy for twelve months.
- The landlord must make repairs to ensure the premises is fit and habitable, and the tenant must give notice of the need for repairs and wait a reasonable period of time for the landlord to make repairs.
- The landlord must follow the court eviction process. The landlord may not resort to self-help methods to evict a tenant.
- Late fees are capped: a landlord may not charge more than 10% or the monthly rent or 10% of the unpaid balance, whichever is cheaper when charging late fees.
- The landlord must provide notice of pesticide use, rent increase, decrease in service, or change in management or ownership of the property.
- The tenant has a right to security and privacy.
- Evictions during Covid-19 pandemic: where the Governor declares a state of emergency and mandates shutdowns that prevent the tenant from working, an eviction lawsuit for failure to pay rent can be postponed for 60 days. The tenant must show up to court and prove that he has not worked within 90 days after the Governor ends the shutdown.
Virginia Landlord Tenant Common Law
Common law is a body of unwritten law and legal principles resulting from prior judicial decisions. For example, tenants have a common law right to engage in self-help repairs if a landlord is defaulting on their obligations and subsequently subtracting the cost of the repairs from the rent. Similarly, the right of a leaseholder to exclude others from the premises is a basic tenet of landlord-tenant common law.
Importantly for Virginia tenants, state law allows some landlords may choose to lease their property subject to the provisions of the VRLTA or common law. The type of lease into which you enter can significantly impact your rights. For example, if you are a tenant in a common-law lease, if a 5-day pay or quit notice is posted and you leave rather than pay, your lease is automatically terminated, and you will not owe any additional rent. On the other hand, under a VRLTA lease, you would still owe rent for the remainder of your lease while the landlord is looking for another tenant.
Common Issues in the Landlord-Tenant Relationship
Multiple issues can arise when tenants rent a dwelling unit from a landlord. Below are the most common issues seen in landlord and tenant disputes:
Landlord’s Refusal to make repairs: A landlord must follow all housing and building codes and maintain a fit and habitable premise. While a rental agreement can place some landlord duties on the tenant, the landlord and tenant cannot enter into a rental agreement that sets the responsibility to follow building and housing codes and maintain a habitable unit on the tenant.
The landlord must keep all electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling, and ventilation systems in safe working order. Additionally, landlords must maintain carbon dioxide alarms and install one within 90 days that a tenant requests the notice in writing. The landlord is also required to prevent and remove any rodent infestations.
When a tenant looks to take a landlord to court for refusing to make repairs, he should first ensure that he is current on rent and must remain current as Virginia law does not allow the tenant to withhold rent. Next, the tenant should notify the landlord of the problem that needs to be fixed and allow a reasonable time for the landlord to remedy the issue. Finally, a tenant can seek court intervention after these steps have been completed and the landlord still has not set the case.
Evictions: The landlord must follow the procedures under the VRLTA to file an eviction lawsuit. Additionally, the landlord must have a court order to evict a tenant. Before initiating the eviction process, the landlord must notify the tenant.
- If a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord must provide notice of the tenant’s failure to pay rent that informs the tenant that he has five days to pay the rent. After the five days have run and the tenant hasn’t paid rent or moved out, the landlord may proceed with an eviction lawsuit.
- Where a tenant violates the lease, and that violation can be remedied, the landlord must provide the tenant with notice that he has 21 days to fix the issue. After 21 days, the landlord can file the eviction lawsuit.
- Where a tenant causes major damage to the unit in violation of the lease agreement, and those damages cannot be fixed, the landlord must provide notice that the tenancy will terminate in 30 days. After 30 days, if the tenant has not moved out, the landlord can file the lawsuit.
- There are also situations in which a landlord is not required to provide notice:
- When a tenant commits a criminal act in the unit, no notice is required. The landlord can immediately file an eviction lawsuit.
- When a tenant is one “at sufferance,” that means the tenant is under no lease agreement and does not pay rent. Here, the tenant can be removed at any time and for any reason without notice. Additionally, the landlord may not have to go through the court process and may use self-help methods such as changing the locks.
- Call Us Today to Speak with a Virginia Landlord-Tenant Attorney: Before you decide to rent in Virginia, it is important to familiarize yourself with the laws that govern tenancies. Ensure you understand the lease and the Statement of Tenant’s Rights and Responsibilities thoroughly. Also, remember that Virginia does not allow a tenant to withhold rent. Per the law, you must notify a landlord of problems. However, deciding what is required and what notices you should send can be complicated. Facing an eviction can only make the situation more urgent.If you find yourself with questions or an active landlord-tenant dispute, call the landlord-tenant attorneys at McClanahan Powers, PLLC, to receive helpful guidance on what to look for when renting and how to proceed in disputes with your landlord. You can contact us to schedule a consultation at 703-520-1326 or by visiting our website.