July 28, 2021
Between the mass layoffs and pandemic eviction moratoriums, many Virginia landlords are struggling to say afloat. Instead of finding new tenants, landlords have been forced to cover months of mortgage payments and taxes without the requisite rental income. The federal government extended certain rent-based eviction prohibitions until June 30, 2021. However, a federal judge recently declared these prohibitions unconstitutional.
Many tenants owe their landlords substantial back rent, late payment fees, and interest that they simply cannot cover. While the Virginia landlord-tenant lawyers at McClanahan Powers, PLLC, can help landlords reform leases and negotiate payment plans with struggling tenants, it’s often necessary to initiate eviction proceedings. This process involves numerous procedural formalities that, if neglected, could result in failed evictions. Here’s what every landlord should know about the Commonwealth of Virginia’s eviction laws and proceedings, especially during COVID-19. For a detailed analysis of your case, connect with our dedicated Virginia landlord rights lawyers by calling (703) 520-1326 or contacting us online.
In early 2020, the CDC issued emergency eviction regulations to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These regulations prevented landlords from evicting and harassing residential tenants, including sending eviction notices, for unpaid rent under the following conditions:
Landlords may still evict tenants for reasons not related to the nonpayment of rent, including lease violations and unlawful activity. Tenants must also take all reasonable steps to pay rent, such as paying prorated amounts and applying for government assistance. Landlords may accept prorated rent under this scheme without risking waiving back rent, which continues accumulating. All adults must also sign and provide landlords with an eligibility declaration under penalty of perjury. They might also challenge their tenants’ declarations in court if it appears their tenants can pay full rent but continue making partial payments.
These regulations were recently extended until June 30, 2021, at which time landlords might begin collecting current rent, back rent, and initiate rent-based eviction proceedings. However, a federal judge has since declared that the CDC exceeded its authority and overturned the present eviction moratorium. This unprecedented situation has left many landlords wondering whether they can begin sending payment demand and eviction notices in the Commonwealth without incurring criminal penalties. As the situation remains fluid, it’s important to discuss your case with a dedicated Virginia eviction guidance lawyer at McClanahan Powers, PLLC, before sending overdue rent and eviction demands.
Eviction orders require former tenants to leave the rental property following lease termination. As such, landlords cannot begin eviction proceedings before either terminating the lease for cause, such as nonpayment of rent or allowing the lease to expire. Generally, the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act governs evictions. The landlord’s rights and notice requirements depend on the eviction reason and lease terms. Consider the following common reasons for filing eviction proceedings in Virginia:
Nonpayment/Underpayment of Rent
Many landlords set forth late payment fees and deadlines in their lease agreements. Provided the tenant violates these terms and the landlord complies with his written lease obligations, the landlord must provide the tenant with a demand for payment (or ask the tenant to leave the property). Under Virginia Code § 55.1-1245(F), written notice must include the following specific information:
The notice must be served on the tenant’s last known residence, which may include the rental property, and printed in equal-sized, readable typeface. For landlords with five or more rental units, i.e., apartment building owners, the landlord must also provide tenants with a proposed interest-free payment plan covering overdue rent. This plan must extend for at least six months or until the lease ends (if sooner). Landlords only need to provide this option once during the lease term, but they must also resend notice if the tenant fails to make structured payments. Experienced landlord-tenant lawyers frequently recommend sending overly detailed pre-eviction notices to ensure you meet all legal requirements.
Violation of Lease Terms
The same notice rules generally apply to material violations of lease terms, such as allowing unregistered tenants to live on the premises or violating the pet policy. However, the landlord must give tenants time to remedy these violations. This would include removing pets from the premises or making necessary repairs. Tenants must have at least 30 days’ notice before landlords initiate eviction proceedings and must remedy violations within 21 days. Local eviction courts might also grant tenants similar remedial rights, which cancel eviction proceedings.
Unlawful Conduct Endangering Health & Safety
For some violations, including manufacturing illegal drugs or refusing to isolate while infected with COVID-19, landlords may immediately terminate the lease without notice. This notice waiver generally applies to any criminal or tortious actions endangering health and safety. It may include harboring illegal firearms, conducting harmful chemical experiments, or engaging in domestic abuse (special eviction protections apply to domestic abuse victims). Under Virginia law, this exception also applies to any illegal drug activity by the tenant or his guests. Landlords should always discuss these claims with local counsel before forgoing notice and initiating eviction proceedings under health and safety exceptions.
Virginia eviction laws were complicated before the pandemic, and now they’re even more complex. From understanding your tenant’s remedial rights to complying with specific notice requirements, Virginia landlords should develop post-COVID eviction plans with McClanahan Powers, PLLC. Different laws apply to residential and commercial evictions, and notice requirements differ in each case. If your tenants cannot pay rent, violated lease terms, or committed unlawful acts, speak with us first by calling (703) 520-1326 or contacting us online.