Landlord Tenant Rights

When a verbal or written lease is entered into a particular set of right automatically attach to the tenant under Virginia law (Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act) like the right to disclosures of any history of use of the property for methamphetamine manufacturing and the right to have the unit maintained fit by the landlord.

The landlord also gets a set of rights which include charge a security deposit and to enter the unit in specific instances for inspection. These rights will automatically be available to either party even if the lease does not mention them.

Additionally, counties and municipalities may also provide extra rights or protection for both parties so it is always best to check those as well.

Warranty of Habitability in Virginia

Landlord Responsibilities. Virginia law dictates that a landlord who has entered into a lease agreement with a tenant is responsible for keeping their rental unit “fit and habitable” by performing certain necessary repairs. This includes repairs to a variety of essential amenities that must be present and operation in all Virginia tenant’s dwellings in order for it to be considered statutorily habitable. The essential amenities outlined in Virginia’s current landlord-tenant laws include the following:

  • Common areas that are “clean and safe”
  • Safe electric wiring, outlets, and fixtures
  • Adequate plumbing
  • In-unit heating and air-conditioning
  • Proper sanitary facilities
  • Adequate ventilation
  • Mold prevention and abatement (as necessary)
  • A proper garbage receptacle and routine garbage removal services
  • An adequate supply of hot and cold water on demand
  • Working smoke alarms

Of note, legal precedent in Virginia actually states that the state’s landlords are not obliged to abide by any common law “implied warranty of habitability.” Even so, Virginia landlords are required to respond to their tenant’s reasonable requests for repairs to any of the amenities listed above. However, they are only required to respond to these requests with “reasonable” efficiency.

Tenant Responsibilities. Tenants in Virginia are legally required to meet certain responsibilities over the course of their tenancy relating to the physical preservation of their dwelling. For example, Virginia law requires tenants remove trash from their unit in a timely manner as well maintain all plumbing in a safe and clean state. These tenants are also required to use all of their provided appliances “reasonably” such that they are not likely to become damaged or lose operation efficiency.

If a Virginia landlord observes a tenant becoming neglectful of these legal responsibilities, they may issue notice of their observations promptly. Specifically, they may issue a 30-Day Notice to Cure that outlines how that tenant may adequately meet their obligations during the course of the notice period. A notified Virginia tenant is then required to abide by all of their tenant’s reasonable requests for remedy or else be faced with a forced eviction at the notice period’s conclusion.

Virginia tenants are among the few in the nation that do not have any specific right to take alternative action against their landlords when they fail to meet their legal obligations to maintain a habitable dwelling. As such, Virginia tenants cannot withhold rent or perform a repair and deduct process. However, in very limited circumstances, a Virginia tenant may pay their rent into a specialized escrow account when their landlord has received official notice of a habitability violation on their premises.

Evictions in Virginia

Virginia landlords are allowed to seek an eviction against their tenant for most any reason, so long as it is reasonable and outlined in the applicable lease agreement. That being said, these are the three most common reasons for eviction in Virginia:

  1. Nonpayment of rent – Under Virginia law, a tenant is required to pay rent on time as specified in their applicable lease agreement. As such, a Virginia tenant has the right to issue notice to any tenant who fails to pay rent in full by that pre-determined date. Specifically, a Virginia landlord may issue a 5-Day Notice to Pay that outlines the full amount that a tenant is expected to pay and the date it must be submitted by. If these terms are not followed precisely, Virginia landlord has the right to proceed with a formal eviction after the end of the 5 day notice period.
  2. Violation of lease terms – Virginia landlords have the right to enforce all terms of their lease and issue notices of violation in a timely manner after such infractions occur. Most infractions of this nature warrant a 30-Day Notice to Cure or Quit be issued to a tenant. This kind of notice must outline the specific lease term that was violated and provide a clear method for resolving the infraction. However, if a Virginia tenant has previously received a notice about the same type of violation, their landlord does not need to give them any chance to cure their behavior. In either case, a Virginia landlord may proceed with formal eviction if the violation has been inadequately resolved after the conclusion of the 30 day notice period.
  3. Illegal Acts – Virginia law does not require landlords to issue any kind or amount of notice to tenants after they observe that tenant engaging in an illegal activity. These same laws do not enumerate what kinds of acts may be considered “illegal” in this context, though. As such, it is assumed that a Virginia landlord can deem any illegal act as properly warranting eviction from the premises.

Evictions without a lease. Virginia tenants who enter into a rental agreement without signing a lease are considered “at-will” under the law. However, these “at-will” tenants are still afforded some protections from unreasonable evictions. For example, an “at-will” tenant in Virginia whose rental agreement specifies an end date cannot be evicted without cause. Meanwhile, those without an end date must be given 30 days of advance notice before they are required to honor a no-cause eviction notice.

Illegal Evictions. Virginia prohibits landlords operating within the state from leveling retaliatory eviction notices against their tenants. This includes in situations where a tenant has filed a formal complaint to a regulatory authority about their dwellings habitability, has testified against their landlord in court, or has joined a tenant organization or union.

Along the same lines, Virginia landlords are prohibited from issuing discriminatory evictions. As a result, a Virginia tenant may be able to fight their eviction if they believe that they have been singled out or targeted based upon their race, color, religion, sex, handicap, “elderliness,” familial status, or national origin.

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Security Deposits in Virginia

In Virginia, landlords for residential rental properties are required to abide by and follow each of these regulations relating to the collection, maintenance, and redistribution of tenant security deposits:

  • Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Virginia landlords are currently prohibited from charges tenants security deposits valued at more than 2 months’ rent under their applicable lease agreement. This standard limit likely does not include so-called “pet deposits,” however, given that these are not specifically addressed in Virginia’s applicable legislation and are considered a “fee” in most other states.
  • Interest and Maintenance – Virginia does not current set forth any standards relating to the maintenance of tenant security deposits in its landlord-tenant code. As a result, landlords operating in this state are allowed to utilize any type of banking or escrow account to maintain their tenants deposits and are allowed to retain any interest that may or may not accrue on those deposits while they are in their possession.
  • Time Limit for Return – Generally, Virginia requires landlords to return their tenant’s security deposit funds with 45 days of that tenant’s lease coming to an end (naturally or otherwise). However, after this 45 day return period ends, a landlord in Virginia still may be required to return any remaining security deposit funds if their tenant provides written proof of paying an outstanding utility bill. Any security deposit returns should be accompanied by an itemized list of deductions that includes listings for deductions made more than 30 days before the lease’s conclusion.
  • Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a Virginia landlord fails to follow any of the state’s regulations relating to security deposits, they may be required by a judge to turn over the withheld deposits as well as pay a penalty consisting of “actual damages” as well as the tenant’s legal fees.
  • Allowable Deductions – Virginia landlords are allowed to make security deposit deductions to cover a wide number of operational costs, including the following:
    • Late payment of rent and any associated fees
    • Costs of damages associated with tenant non-compliance
    • Reasonable costs of outstanding utility bills
    • Administrative costs associated with the processing of a new rental agreement

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Lease Termination in Virginia

Notice Requirements. Virginia tenants who are signed onto periodic leases are required to provide the following amounts of notice when they intend to terminate their lease prematurely:

  • Month-to-Month lease – 30 days of advance notice
  • Yearly lease with no end date – 3 months of advance notice

If a Virginia tenant’s lease includes a fixed end date, they are not required to give advance notice prior to that date’s arrival, however.

Legally Breaking a Lease Early. If a Virginia tenant feels it is necessary to break off their lease early, they should consider invoking an early termination clause written into their lease agreement. However, not all Virginia tenants have an opportunity to utilize this kind of leasing provision. As such, a Virginia tenant who is planning to break off their lease should consider one of these alternative methods for accomplishing this goal:

  1. Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
  2. Unit is Uninhabitable – Virginia requires its landlords to follow all state and local housing habitability codes, including while their units are occupied by tenants. In most cases, this means that a Virginia landlord is responsible for providing certain essential amenities as well as providing timely repairs for the same. If either of these obligations are not met, a particular unit may be judged as unfit for human habitation. At that point, a tenant may request an immediate lease termination on the grounds that their dwelling is unsafe for continued habitation.
  3. Landlord Harassment – Virginia landlords are required to always give 24 hours of advance notice before they enter a tenant’s dwelling. This includes during all non-emergency causes for entry, such as when a repair has been requested. However, if a Virginia landlord fails to abide by these entry standards or abuses their emergency right to entry, they may be accused of harassment. This, in turn, may give an affected tenant standing to terminate their lease.
  4. Domestic Violence – Victims of family abuse, sexual abuse, or criminal sexual assault in Virginia are allowed to terminate their lease with only a minimum amount of notice. Specifically, they need only provide 30 days of advance notice in order for their landlord to properly honor their request.
  5. Failure to Provide Mandatory Disclosures – Virginia requires its landlords to issue a wide variety of mandatory information disclosures. While failing to issue any one of these disclosures alone may not be used as a justification for lease termination, failing to issue a disclosure that may have impacted a tenant’s ability to safely and securely enjoy their dwelling may be used to support a termination request.

Virginia does require its landlords to take reasonable actions to mitigate damages associated with a tenant’s choice to terminate their lease early. As such, they must assist in the re-renting of a vacated unit when warranted and must make all reasonable attempts to accept a new tenant before charging the remaining value of the lease to its former tenant.

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Rent Increases & Related Fees in Virginia

Rent control & increases. Under Virginia law, all local jurisdictions are expressly prohibited from enacting any policies or ordinances that amount to residential housing rent control. As such, a landlord operating in Virginia is fully able to determine what rent rates are appropriate for their units without government limitation.

Virginia also does not require its landlords to provide notice in advance of a rent increase. So, Virginia landlords are effectively free to raise rent as much as they want and at their own discretion with regards to timing.

Rent related fees. Late rent payment fees are essentially unregulated in Virginia. Even so, legal precedent in the state dictates that a court will likely strike down any late rent payment fee if it is not expressly outlined in an applicable lease agreement. These same precedents dictate that a late rent payment fee’s actual value must be commensurate with the financial losses experienced by a Virginia landlord due to their tenant’s failure to pay on time.

Meanwhile, certain rent-related fees are standardized by Virginia’s legal code. Specifically, returned check fees cannot be valued at any higher than $50 per instance.

Housing Discrimination in Virginia

Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.

State Protections. Currently, Virginia’s fair housing laws only establish one protected class not already addressed in the federal Fair Housing Act. To that end, a Virginia tenant cannot be evicted due to their “elderliness.” This term is compared to age-based protections seen in other states, but only applies to individuals who are 55 years of age or older.

Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Virginia Fair Housing Board handles the administration and enforcement of the state’s fair housing laws. This includes fielding complaints about discriminatory business practices enumerated in the state’s fair housing laws. This includes the following:

  • Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate housing on a bona fide offer
  • Offering different terms, conditions, or privileges between tenants
  • Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling in a manner that indicates a discriminatory preference
  • Falsely representing the availability of a unit
  • Inducing a tenant to buy, sell, or rent a dwelling based upon representations of a neighborhood’s current or future demographic composition (blockbusting)
  • Refusing or failing to make a reasonable accommodation

If a Virginia tenant feels that they have experienced one of these or other discriminatory business practices, they may file a report on the Virginia Fair Housing Board’s website. This will initiate an investigation process designed to determine if the tenant’s complaint of discrimination was justified. If this kind of just-cause finding is found, it will be released to the complainant, who may then use it as the basis of civil litigation seeking damages. The Board itself does not administer penalties of any kind.

Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Virginia

Here are just a few more useful landlord-tenant laws that Virginia landlords and tenants alike should know:

Landlord Entry. Landlords in Virginia are required to provide 24 hours of advance notice before entering a tenant’s dwelling. This standard applies to most standard causes for landlord entry, including for the purposes of showing a unit or performing repairs. Outside of these situations, though, a landlord in Virginia may only enter a tenant’s unit without notice when an emergency threatens that tenant’s well-being.

Small Claims Court. Landlords and tenants in Virginia are permitted to utilize the state’s small claims court system to resolve disputes valued at $5,000 or more. This may include eviction cases, which may also be heard in the state’s civil courts. More information about this state’s small claims court procedures can be found here.

Mandatory Disclosures. All Virginia landlords are required to make the following disclosures to all tenants in order for their leases to be considered valid and binding:

  1. Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
  2. Owners, Managers, and Agents. At the commencement of a new lease, a Virginia landlord must disclose in writing the names and addresses of all property owners connected to a tenant’s property. This disclosure must also include the same information for all agents registered to act as property managers for the tenant’s property.
  3. Location Adjacent to Military Installation. Landlords who are leasing properties adjacent to a military installation must indicate in a written agreement that tenant is willingly entering into a “noise zone” or an “accident potential zone.” This disclosure should include information relevant to the applicable zoning designations.
  4. Defective Drywall. Landlords in Virginia must disclose when any part of a tenant’s drywall is known to be defective. If this disclosure is not made and a defect is discovered, it may be used as grounds for lease termination within 60 days of its discovery.
  5. Previous Use for Methamphetamine Manufacture. A Virginia landlord that has “actual knowledge” that tenant’s unit was previously used for making methamphetamines must disclose this information to that tenant. Failing to do so may allow a tenant that discovers this information on their own to terminate their lease within 60 days.
  6. Mold. Virginia landlords must disclose whether a tenant’s unit contains mold prior to the beginning of their tenancy. A Virginia tenant, however, may dispute the details of this disclosure within the first 5 days of their tenancy, however.

Changing the Locks. Virginia’s laws are fairly silent when it comes to changing locks. While lockouts on the part of a landlord are prohibited, tenants in this state may be able to change their own locks if their lease agreement allows for it. In all cases, though, a tenant who wishes to change their locks should seek permission before doing so.

Local Laws in Virginia

Landlord tenant rights are not exclusively governed by state law. Cities and counties may enact their own rules and regulations for renters.

Virginia Beach Landlord Tenant Rights

In addition to state and federal fair housing protections, the city of Virginia Beach protects rental housing tenants based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity. More information on how this city administers its additional fair housing protections can be found here.

Chesapeake Landlord Tenant Rights

The city of Chesapeake maintains a heightened rental housing inspection code for all relevant properties within city limits. This includes codes relating to the presence of carbon monoxide detectors as well as accessibility within interior rooms (among others). More information about these specific local housing ordinances can be found here.

Alexandria Landlord Tenant Rights

The city of Alexandria supplements both state and federal fair housing protections by also protecting tenants within city limits based upon their sexual orientation. More information about this and other local fair housing policies can be found on the city’s website.