Below is some basic information on rights that tenants in Virginia have when it comes to different common housing issues. You can navigate between different topics using the index or by scrolling down the page.
If you need legal help with a housing issue, you can see how to contact us here.
STEP ONE: Notice
A landlord must always give written notice of the reason for eviction before filing in court.
- Non-Payment of Rent: a 5-day pay or quit notice is required. This notice must list the exact amount owed under your lease and give you 5 days to pay that amount.
- Violation of a Lease Term that Can be Corrected: requires a notice that gives you 21 days to fix the problem. If the violation is not fixed with in those 21 days, the landlord can file for eviction 9 days later (30 days after the original notice).
- Violation that Cannot be Corrected: requires a 30-day notice prior to filing. If the activity is drug related or threatens health or safety, your landlord can file immediately after giving you notice.
STEP TWO: First Appearance & Default Judgments
The first court date (“return date”) is your first appearance.
- If you do not show up to court, you will get a “default judgment” which means you can be evicted.
- If you have defenses, ask for a hearing and set the case for trial; otherwise, you will get a judgment at this appearance.
- You may ask for pleadings, which would require the landlord to list out their legal basis for eviction.
- Right of Redemption: the eviction lawsuit must be dismissed as paid if you pay the landlord, the landlord’s attorney, or the court all amounts owed as of the court date. If there is a dispute, the judge can decide it.
- Nonsuits: the landlord may voluntarily decide to drop your case with a “nonsuit.” A nonsuit does not prevent the landlord from refiling in the future, but until they do so you will not be evicted.
STEP THREE: Hearing & Judgement
- The hearing is where you can submit any evidence you have and argue your case.
- If you lose your case, the judge will enter a judgment for possession to the landlord. This judgment is public and may affect your rental applications in the future.
- If you win your case and your landlord refiles based on the same situation, you can tell the judge that the case was already decided in your favor by a previous judge. This is called “res judicata.”
STEP FOUR: Motions to Rehear & Appeals
- Motion to Rehear: You have 30 days after a default judgment to file a motion to rehear. The judge has the choice to rehear – it helps to show that you were unaware or unable to make the previous court date.
- Appeal: You have 10 days to appeal a judgment. You may have to pay a bond to the court to appeal
STEP FIVE: Writ of Eviction
- The writ of eviction is the document the Sheriff posts on the door of a home certifying that a judge has ordered the eviction and giving the Sheriff authority to make the tenant leave within 72 hours. 72 hours after posting the writ of eviction the Sheriff can return and force the tenant to leave.
- Once judgment is granted, the landlord still needs to file for a writ of eviction. They have 6 months from the judgment date to do so.
- Motion to Quash: If your lease renewed after the date of the judgment, but before the date that the writ was issued, you can file a “motion to quash” the writ, which (if the judge agrees) can prevent an eviction.
- Extended Right of Redemption: you can pay all amounts owed (rent, late fees, court costs, sheriff’s fee, attorney’s fees) as of 48 hours before the Sheriff’s scheduled eviction date. You can pay into court.
STEP SIX: Eviction
- The Sheriff cannot evict you until the appeal period is over (10 days).
- Notice will be given at least 72 hours before the sheriff can evict you.
- Eviction can only be scheduled after the writ of eviction is issued.
IMPORTANT: Under Virginia law, you cannot stop paying rent because of bad conditions, even if the problems are very serious. Withholding rent could lead to your eviction, and the poor conditions would not be a defense.
When addressing any conditions issue, it is important to start by giving dated written notice of the issue to your landlord. You should also do everything that you can to document the issue and any correspondence with your landlord.
The options listed below apply to conditions issues that affect health or safety, or are a violation of your landlord’s obligation to make repairs under your lease. Common conditions that should qualify: rodents or other pests (so long as you did not delay in notifying the landlord about the problem), mold (so long as the mold isn’t your fault), heat, electricity, etc. If the repair is because you damaged the unit beyond reasonable wear and tear, the landlord is not required to make repairs, and instead can charge you for any repairs that are done.
- Your Right (VA Code § 55.1-1244.1): If the landlord doesn’t make necessary repairs, you can pay for any repairs out of pocket and then deduct the cost from the next month’s rent. The maximum amount you can deduct from your rent is either $1,500 or one month’s rent, whichever is more, but you must follow the steps below.
- What you have to do: (1) Give your landlord written notice of the problem by hand delivery or mail, and keep a copy or a photo of the notice. (2) Wait 14 days for the landlord to fix it. (3) If they do not fix it, you can hire a licensed contractor to make necessary repairs. (4) After the repairs are made you must give an itemized statement of the costs of the repair and the receipts for the work to your landlord. (5) Then you can deduct the cost from your next month’s rent.
- Pros: You can get the repair done quickly, with your own chosen contractor
- Cons: You have to pay for the repair up front, and if your landlord disagrees with the deduction, they may try to take you to court for nonpayment (if you follow these steps, this process would be your defense).
- Your Right (VA Code § 55.1-1234): You can terminate your lease if your landlord refuses to make necessary repairs.
- What you have to do: (1) Send a written notice to the landlord asking them to fix the problem and letting them know that if they do not fix the issue within 21 days the lease will terminate in 30 days. (2) If the landlord has not fixed the problem the tenant can move.
- Note: the repair needed cannot be the fault of the tenant.
- Pros: You can move out to avoid the bad conditions
- Cons: Moving can be expensive. If your landlord does not agree with your lease termination, they can try to take you to court for breaking your lease early (If you follow these steps, that would be your defense).
- Your right (VA Code § 55.1-1244): You can file a lawsuit called a Tenant’s Assertion against your landlord and ask a court to order them to make necessary repairs and/or return rent money to you, or terminate your lease at your request. You must be current on rent to file this lawsuit.
- What you have to do: (1) Give your landlord written notice of the problem by hand delivery or mail and keep a copy or photo of the notice and, (2) wait 30 days for them to fix it (unless the problem is an emergency, such as lack of running water, then you can wait less time). (3) If the landlord does not fix it, then file the case in General District Court by filling out a “Tenant’s Assertion and Complaint” form at the clerk’s office. (4) Pay your rent into an escrow account with the clerk’s office by the normal due date, instead of to your landlord. (5) The court will schedule a hearing and you should bring any evidence, like photos of the problem and a copy or photo of the notice to your landlord, that you have to the court hearing.
- Pros: The judge can order the landlord to make the repair and make them come back to court to show that it’s done. You can get a deduction in your rent, or even all your rent back for the time the repairs are not done if the conditions are bad enough.
- Cons: The court process for a Tenant’s Assertion can be long. You will need to go to court several times. You will have a court hearing in front of a judge, but sometimes judges side with the landlord, or decide not to give the tenant everything they ask for, even if tenants follow these steps. You must be current on your rent and pay your rent to the clerk’s office on time each month during this process.
The rights listed here apply to all tenants in Virginia. You may have more rights if you live in subsidized housing (housing with income restricted rent, such as public housing).
Housing providers can’t do the following because of somebody’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex/gender (including domestic violence survivors), familial status (having children under 18, disability, age, or source of funds (vouchers).
Examples of discrimination include:
- Offensive statements by a property manager to a tenant
- Segregating all families with children in certain areas of a complex
- Evicting a domestic violence victim because she called the police a lot
There are some housing providers that these fair housing laws do not apply to. These include:
- A landlord renting a building that they live in AND that has 4 units or less
- A person renting or selling a single-family home, without help from a broker, if that person does not own more than 3 such homes at one time
- Religious organizations or clubs that provide housing and give preference to their members
If you believe you have been discriminated against you can file a fair housing complaint in court or with the Virginia Fair Housing Office or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. You may be able to get assistance or advice filing a complaint from lawyers or advocates. If you are successful with your complaint you could get relief such as: the next unit in a certain apartment complex, an exception to a rule, money damages, policy changes, or training for discriminatory housing provider and their staff.
If you are a tenant and you need to make modifications to your living space due to a disability, here is some information on your rights to reasonable accommodations:
- Your Right (42 USC §3604(f), VA Code §36-96.3): Tenants with disabilities can ask for exceptions to rules or physical modifications of an apartment if those changes are necessary, because of the tenant’s disability. For example, a tenant who has asthma can ask to be allowed to install a window air conditioning unit in their apartment to help them breathe.
- What you have to do: (1) Tell the landlord that you, or someone in your family, has a disability. (2) Tell them what change you need to be made and, (3) tell them why the change is necessary because of your disability. If the disability is not obvious, you can be required to provide documentation from a health provider that the person has a disability and that the accommodation or modification is needed. (4) then you can make the modification. The tenant must make the modification, but the landlord is obligated to allow it. In general, the tenant is responsible for making the modification and paying any cost associated with it.
- It’s recommended that you do this in writing and give the landlord a deadline (usually a few weeks) to respond. If the landlord does not grant the reasonable modification or accommodation request you can file a complaint with the Virginia Fair Housing Office, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, or in state or federal court.
- Note: You cannot ask for anything that is outside what a landlord normally does or that would create a serious burden for the landlord (for example, you cannot ask for the landlord to buy your groceries).
IF YOU ARE A TENANT, YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO ORGANIZE WHERE YOU LIVE, UNDER VIRGINIA LAW.
- You can join a tenant’s association, meet with other tenants, visit your neighbors, and advocate for changes where you live.
- You can meet in common areas and invite guests to talk with you about your rights as a tenant.
- You can also make complaints to your landlord, make complaints to code enforcement about your landlord, or file an action or testify against your landlord in court.
This is true no matter who your landlord is.
IMPORTANT: If your landlord knows you are organizing or taking any of these actions, they cannot retaliate or pressure you to stop by raising your rent, cutting your services, trying to end your lease, or evicting you.
Call us if you think you are being treated unfairly because you are speaking up! You have rights!
- Your landlord can try to end your lease or evict you if you are violating your lease, housing code, or the law in other ways.
- They can also choose not to renew your lease.
- If you think your landlord is retaliating, make sure to save copies of letters, emails, and text messages between you and your landlord.
If you have questions about what your lease requires, please reach out.
If you live in public housing or you have a government-funded voucher, you might have different rights and protections. Please reach out to LAJC if you have questions.
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Depending on our current capacity and priorities there may not be immediate ways for you to participate.