December 29, 2020
In Virginia, landlord-tenant relationships are governed by the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA) in situations where the tenant is living in a single-family residence, multi-family residence, and certain public housing units. The VRLTA states all rights and responsibilities, as well as 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 Statement of Tenant Rights and Responsibilities. 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.
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 kinds of 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:
Common law is a body of unwritten law and legal principles that are the result of prior judicial decisions. For example, tenants have a common law right to engage in self-help repairs if a landlord is defaulting on his or her 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 have a significant impact on 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.
Multiple issues can arise when a tenant rents 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 has the duty to follow all housing and building codes and to maintain a fit and habitable premise. While a rental agreement can place some of the landlord duties on the tenant, the landlord and tenant cannot enter into a rental agreement that places the responsibility to follow building and housing codes and maintain a habitable unit on the tenant.
The landlord is required to 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 alarm 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 give notice to the landlord of the problem that needs to be fixed and allow a reasonable time for the landlord to remedy the issue. After these steps have been completed and the landlord still has not fixed the issue, then a tenant can seek court intervention.
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 provide notice to the tenant.
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.