In West Virginia, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, West Virginia varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. West Virginia law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in West Virginia
Landlord Responsibilities. Legal precedent in West Virginia has determined that landlords operating within the state are obliged to abide by an “implied warranty of habitability.” This warranty essentially summarizes the state’s standards for livability when it comes to residential rental housing. Some of these standards are codified into law, including requirements to provide certain essential amenities to all tenants. These 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
- A proper garbage receptacle and routine garbage removal services
- An adequate supply of hot and cold water
So long as a West Virginia tenant has paid rent, they are allowed to request repairs to any of these essential amenities. In turn, their landlord must respond to and act upon this kind of request in a “reasonable” amount of time. If a West Virginia landlord is negligent of these or any other responsibilities set forth in their lease agreement, their tenant may be able to use their inaction as grounds for terminating their lease agreement.
Tenant Responsibilities. West Virginia is one of only a small number of US states that does not include a statute in its landlord-tenant code that specifically outlines the responsibilities ascribed to all tenants, regardless of their leasing provisions. As such, West Virginia tenants are not obliged to undertake any unreasonable responsibilities that they have not agreed to in their lease.
Even so, legal precedent and best practice in West Virginia dictate that tenants should meet some basic responsibilities in order to maintain a successful leasing relationship with their landlord. For example, a West Virginia tenant should always pay rent on time and perform minor maintenance jobs that prevent the physical conditions of their dwelling from falling into a non-compliant state. West Virginia tenants are also expected to take out their trash in a timely manner.
Due to the lack of statutory standards relating to tenant responsibilities, it is unclear how a West Virginia landlord is supposed to enforce any specific responsibilities placed upon their tenants without making specific provisions in their lease agreement. However, a West Virginia landlord may be able to treat a tenant’s failure to fulfill their legal obligations as a lease violation, depending on the circumstances. In that case, a West Virginia landlord would not need to provide their tenant with any notice before proceeding with an eviction.
Also, West Virginia tenants do not appear to have any legal protections at the state level when it comes to taking alternative action against a landlord who fails to deliver a habitable dwelling. To that end, West Virginia’s statutory code lacks any provisions indicating that a tenant in the state has a right to withhold rent or perform a “repair and deduct” under any circumstances. A West Virginia tenant may still attempt to take alternative action but must also do so with the recognition that their landlord may evict them in reaction.
Evictions in West Virginia
West Virginia landlords are fairly free to evict their tenants at their own discretion. Even so, these are the three most common reasons a West Virginia landlord is likely to evict their noncompliant tenants:
- Nonpayment of rent – Because West Virginia lacks a statue standardizing the time of rent payments, it is assumed that all tenants in the state are required to pay rent on demand or at the time indicated by their lease. If a West Virginia tenant does not pay their full rent at that time, their landlord has the full right to immediately evict them. No amount of notice or opportunity to pay needs to be provided by a West Virginia landlord in this situation.
- Violation of lease terms – A West Virginia landlord has a large amount of discretion about how they enforce the terms of their lease agreements. As such, a West Virginia landlord is not required by law to provide their tenant with any notice when they document their tenant violating one or more of their leasing terms. In such a situation, a West Virginia landlord is free to immediately evict their tenant on the grounds that their violation has severed the binding nature of their lease agreement. As a result of this allowance for immediate eviction, West Virginia landlords also do not need to provide their tenant with any opportunity to cure their behavior prior to an eviction order becoming active.
- Illegal Acts – As with regular lease violations, West Virginia landlords are almost entirely free to dictate what illegal acts can justify an eviction. If they find that one or more of their tenants has engaged in an illegal act of this nature, they need not inform their tenant of their findings via a notice or advance warning. Instead, they may immediately initiate the eviction process.
Evictions without a lease. West Virginia tenants who rent without entering into a lease agreement are generally treated in a comparable manner to their leased counterparts. These “at-will” tenants, for example, cannot be evicted from their dwelling prior to their lease’s conclusion if that lease includes a fixed end date. However, a month-to-month “at-will” tenant can be evicted without cause, so long as they are given 30 days of advance notice.
Illegal Evictions. West Virginia law makes it illegal for landlords to use an eviction order or the threat of eviction as a form of retaliation against a tenant. As a result, a West Virginia tenant cannot be forced to move out of their rented unit simply for reporting a health or safety code violation to a local regulatory authority. In the same vein, West Virginia’s few statewide civil rights laws make it illegal for landlords to seek evictions against their tenants on discriminatory grounds.
Security Deposits in West Virginia
While West Virginia’s landlord-tenant code is fairly favorable to landlords in general, they are still required to abide by these following regulations relating to the collection, maintenance, and redistribution of security deposits:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – West Virginia state law does not currently establish a standard limit on how much a landlord can charge their tenant as a security deposit. As such, a West Virginia is allowed to set their security deposit rates as high as they see fit, even if they lack a standardized maximum amount of their own or are not relative in value to a tenant’s average rent payments.
- Interest and Maintenance – Landlords in West Virginia are not required to abide by any regulations relating to their method of maintaining their tenant’s collected security deposits. As such, these landlords are free to utilize any deposit storage method they see fit, including an interest-bearing bank account or escrow. Also, due to a lack of statutory regulation or guidance on the issue, West Virginia landlords are allowed to claim all interest that may accrue on their tenant’s deposits while they are in their possession.
- Time Limit for Return – Under most circumstances, a West Virginia landlord has 60 days from the end of a tenant’s tenancy to deliver their remaining security deposit funds as well as an itemized list describing all deductions made to the initial deposit. However, if a new tenant begins to occupy to occupy a tenant’s former dwelling immediately after they move out, a West Virginia landlord only has 45 days to deliver their former tenant’s remaining security deposit funds and the associated deduction list.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a West Virginia landlord is non-compliant with any of the state’s security deposit regulations, they may become liable to pay the affected tenant a penalty consisting of their remaining security deposit funds plus a sum equal to 1.5 times the wrongfully withheld amount.
- Allowable Deductions – Landlords in West Virginia are allowed to make security deposit deductions for numerous reasons, including the need to cover the cost of late rent payments and unfulfilled utility bills. A West Virginia landlord may also legally make this kind of deduction to cover the cost of a repair as well as to cover the cost of removing and storing a tenant’s possession (in the case of abandonment or eviction).
Lease Termination in West Virginia
Notice Requirements. If a West Virginia tenant is signed on to a fixed end-date lease, then their landlord must assume that they will allow that lease to terminate on its pre-established cessation date unless notified otherwise. Tenants in West Virginia who rent on a periodic basis, however, must provide the following amounts of written notice in advance if they want their lease to be properly terminated:
- Week-to-Week lease – 1 week of advance notice
- Month-to-Month lease – 1 month of advance notice
- Yearly lease with no end date – 3 months of advance notice
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. West Virginia tenants who intend to terminate their lease before its stated or natural conclusion will best be able to do so by invoking their lease’s early termination clause. However, in lieu of this kind of lease termination provision, a West Virginia tenant may still be able to break off their lease early using one these following legal methods:
- 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.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Under West Virginia’s implied warranty of habitability, landlords operating in the state are required to provide certain amenities and repairs that allow a dwelling to be considered statutorily livable. West Virginia landlords are required to fulfill these responsibilities at all times, including when tenants occupy their rental units. If this responsibility is neglected over an extended period of time, a West Virginia tenant may be able to claim that their unit is statutorily uninhabitable. This condition may then be used to justify a lease termination on the grounds of personal health or safety preservation.
- Landlord Harassment – Currently, West Virginia does not maintain any statutes governing when or for what reasons a landlord may enter an occupied unit. Even so, West Virginia landlords are required to abide by any entry policies outlined in an applicable lease agreement. Failing to do so may cause an affected tenant to claim that their privacy is being invaded. This kind of landlord harassment may then be used to terminate a lease early in certain circumstances.
West Virginia state law does not require landlords operating in the state to assist their tenants in the re-renting process. As a result, a tenant in West Virginia who terminates their lease early may remain financially liable to pay rent on their former unit until they are able to secure a sublessor to take over their former lease.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in West Virginia
Rent control & increases. West Virginia does not currently maintain any type of allowance for or prohibition against local rent control policies in its current statutory code. As such, landlords operating in this state are still able to set their own rent rates without approval or direct oversight from the state government. Even without a legal prohibition on these kinds of ordinances, it is also unlikely that West Virginia will allow local rent control policies due to the state government’s ability to strike down most local laws it does not approve of.
Also, West Virginia does not require its landlords to provide any notice in advance of a rent increase becoming active. As such, a West Virginia landlord is effectively able to raise their rent rates as much as they want, whenever they want.
Rent related fees. West Virginia state law allows landlords to charge most kinds of operational fees, so long as the terms and prices of those fees are clearly outlined in an applicable lease agreement. This includes late rent payment fees, which can be valued at any amount on both a total and per diem basis. Meanwhile, West Virginia’s financial regulations prohibit landlords from charging more than $25 per instance for a returned check fee.
Housing Discrimination in West 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. Under the West Virginia Fair Housing Act, the state does not establish or maintain any protected tenant classes that exceed those required by the federal Fair Housing Act. As a result, fair housing enforcement in West Virginia is fairly minimal and generally comparable to federal enforcement in its several applications.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. Though the West Virginia Human Rights Commission is officially designated as the state’s enforcement authority for fair housing legislation, they public-facing information on their policies to this extent are minimal at best. To that end, they have not published consumer-oriented materials that outline what kinds of business practices they consider discriminatory and worthy of reporting to their regulatory authorities.
The West Virginia Human Rights Commission does not currently offer digital reporting of fair housing complaints. Instead, tenants who feel that they have been discriminated against by their landlord must print out, fill out, and file these documents. From there, the Commission will initiate an investigation geared towards determining if the complaint was justified. If a just cause finding is returned, a West Virginia tenant may then use that as evidence in a civil suit seeking damages.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in West Virginia
While you work to learn more about West Virginia’s landlord-tenant laws, don’t forget to read up on these extra regulations:
Landlord Entry. West Virginia does not currently maintain any statutory standards relating to landlord entry. As such, a West Virginia landlord is freely able to enter a tenant’s unit without permission or advance notice by default. West Virginia tenants who desire a standardized entry policy can request such a provision be added to their lease agreement. Such a provision should indicate the several reasons (including emergencies) in which a landlord may enter the tenant’s unit, as well as how much notice must be provided before entry can be granted.
Small Claims Court. In West Virginia, landlords and tenants are allowed to utilize the state’s small claims court system to litigate cases valued at $5,000 or less. Because the state’s small claims courts operate as magistrate courts, however, not all of them handle eviction cases. Some local civic courts handle eviction cases instead, so landlords and tenants alike should check their county’s standards before proceeding.
Mandatory Disclosures. Because West Virginia does not require its landlords to provide tenants with any kind of mandatory disclosure, landlords operating in this state only need to provide tenants living in buildings built before 1978 with federally-mandated information about the dangers of lead-based paint.
Changing the Locks. West Virginia’s landlord-tenant laws are almost entirely silent when it comes to lock changing standards. In fact, their only major mention of locks is in the statewide prohibition on lockouts as a means of forced eviction. Due to this general lack of guidance or regulation, tenants in West Virginia may be able to change their own locks, as long as they seek permission from their landlord or their lease specifically allows for modifications of that nature.
West Virginia Landlord Tenant Resources
These following digital resources could be a major asset to you, whether you’re a landlord or a tenant in West Virginia:
Landlord/Tenant Responsibilities in Charleston – This handbook by the city of Charleston Public Safety Council and outlines the practical applications of both state and local housing laws. This handbook may be useful to landlords in particular as it includes sample applications, check lists, and agreements that may all be used as reference for operating documents.
West Virginia Magistrate Courts – Landlords and tenants in West Virginia who are seeking small claims litigation will need to check out this resource to learn which of the state’s numerous magistrate courts covers their county. This website also includes links to a variety of documents prospective litigants will need to fill out and submit in order for a case to be heard in this venue.
5 Steps to the Complaint Process – This guide primer can guide a West Virginia tenant through the process of submitting a formal complaint relating to housing discrimination. This includes brief information about a tenant’s options for appeal following an investigation by the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.