Many Virginia residents live in rented accommodations, which can have different advantages and challenges than owning a home. In an ideal situation both landlord and tenant abide by the terms of the lease and, therefore, exist more or less in peaceful harmony. Unfortunately, as we all know, things don’t always go as smoothly as we would like.
If things go wrong between a landlord and tenant, this can lead to eviction. Landlords cannot just kick tenants out any time for any reason, though. There are strict laws governing when and why a tenant can be evicted and how the process must play out. If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, make sure you know your rights under the law so that you can protect yourself and your interests. Our guide to Virginia eviction laws will help you navigate the process.
The laws regarding rental properties and the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants can be found in the Code of Virginia, sections 55-248.2 through 55-248.40. These laws are known as the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA). The VRLTA was originally enacted in 1974. If you have any questions about the legality of activities by either a landlord or tenant, consult the VRLTA for clarity.
NONPAYMENT OF RENT
Perhaps the most common reason that landlords seek eviction is nonpayment of rent. When you sign a lease, make sure that the terms of payment are spelled out clearly so that there is not any confusion about how payment is to be made. The lease should specify:
- The amount of rent to be paid
- The date that rent is due (including policies if the due date falls on a weekend or holiday)
- Where rent is to be paid (at the office, by mail, online, etc.)
- How rent is to be paid, what forms of payment are acceptable
- Consequences of late payment (If there is a late fee it must be included in the lease. If no late fee is listed in the lease then the landlord cannot charge one.)
- Amount of notice the landlord will give for raising rent
Make sure you understand all the stipulations regarding payment of rent. Ask for clarification before signing the lease if anything is unclear to you or seems wrong.
In the event that rent is not paid according to the terms of the lease, this is considered a breach of the lease. The landlord must follow the procedure laid out in the VRLTA in order to evict a tenant for nonpayment. The landlord must deliver a “Pay or Quit” notice to the tenant. This is sometimes called a five-day notice because it gives the tenant five days in which to pay the overdue rent or vacate the property. If the overdue rent is paid in full within the five-day window then the tenant has the right to remain in the property.
OTHER BREACH OF LEASE
Landlords can also seek to evict a tenant because they have broken some other term of the lease not related to payment of rent. A lease is a legally binding contract, and both the tenant and the landlord must abide by its terms. As with rental terms, you should carefully read all the terms of your lease and make sure you understand them. Some common lease terms include:
- Pets – many rental properties have rules regarding the type of animals that can be kept as pets on their premises. They may also restrict certain breeds of dog or not allow animals over a certain size or weight.
- Alterations – most leases include stipulations about what kinds of alterations can be made to the property by the tenant. For example, some properties will allow you to paint the walls while others will not.
- Utilities – your lease should include information about who will pay utilities.
- Guests – most leases limit the amount of time that you can host overnight guests. A typical timeframe is no more than two weeks.
- Noise – many leases include terms about noise as excessive noise can disturb other tenants. There may be specific rules about remaining quiet at night.
If a tenant breaks any term of their lease, the landlord can issue what is called a “Notice to Quit” or “Notice of Default.” This is similar to the “Pay or Quit” notice above, but in this case the tenant has 21 days to correct the problem or they must vacate the property within 30 days. This is sometimes called a 30-day notice.
Remember that your landlord cannot evict you for any activities that are not covered by the terms of your lease (as long as those activities are not illegal). If you think that your landlord is trying to evict you without cause, you should seek legal representation immediately.
If a tenant is served a five-day notice or 30-day notice and does not either comply with the terms or vacate the property, the landlord must follow a strict procedure in order to force an eviction. The next step if the tenant has not remedied the problem or voluntarily vacated the property is for the landlord to file an Unlawful Detainer action in court.
Note that the landlord is not permitted to enter your home, lock you out, or turn off utilities even if the notice has expired. They must follow the legal procedure of filing in court.
Once the Unlawful Detainer is filed, the court will set a date for an initial hearing. At this hearing, the judge will ask the tenant if they admit or deny what the landlord has claimed. If the tenant denies the allegations then a trial date will be set. However, if the tenant admits the allegation or fails to appear the landlord can request an immediate Writ of Possession. The Writ of Possession allows the landlord to begin the actual eviction process.
If the matter goes to trial it proceeds through the court in the same way as other cases. The landlord and tenant will each produce evidence to show that they are in the right and a judgment will be issued. The unsuccessful party can then choose to appeal the ruling.
In the case of eviction for nonpayment, the tenant can pay all unpaid rent, penalties, attorneys’ fees, and court costs at any time before a judgment is entered. If this payment is made, the Unlawful Detainer process stops on that date. Tenants can only do this once every 12 months.
If the Unlawful Detainer goes forward and the court finds in favor of the landlord, either at the hearing or at trial, then the actual eviction process will begin.
There are two types of eviction, the “24-hour lock change” eviction and “full eviction.” Most landlords choose the 24-hour lock change eviction because it is less expensive.
In a 24-hour lock change eviction, the landlord provides a locksmith to change the locks on the property. For the next 24 hours, the landlord must allow the tenant access to the property to retrieve their personal belongings. After this 24-hour period, the landlord can sell or destroy any of the tenant’s remaining personal property.
In a full eviction, the Sheriff’s Office will be present for the process and is responsible for protecting the rights of both landlord and tenant. All of the tenant’s property will be removed from the premises and placed on the nearest public right of way. The landlord must provide a locksmith to change the locks and enough people to remove the property. The Sheriff’s Office may require the landlord to provide a truck or moving van to assist in the removal of the tenant’s property.
Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, it is important to know the law and know your rights. Always read leases and other contracts carefully before signing them and make sure you will be able to abide by the terms.
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