By Brian Mittman
The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (“VRLTA”) protects tenant’s apartments, rental homes, and federally subsidized housing in many different ways by imposing requirements on institutional and large residential landlords (defined as three or more properties subject to a residential lease). The VRLTA requires the landlord to maintain the property, which includes complying with housing and building codes, keeping the premises in fit and habitable condition, maintaining the common areas in a clean and safe condition, keeping the utilities property working, preventing the accumulation of moisture and mold, providing containers for trash, and supplying sufficient running and hot water and air conditioning (§ 55-248.13).
As a tenant in the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is your responsibility to know your rights and understand how you can protect yourself from landlord actions in various situations.
Required Landlord Disclosures
According to the VRLTA, here are some examples of disclosures landlords are required to make:
- Any changes in property ownership or management and a full list of agents who are authorized to act on behalf of the landlord or management company (§ 55-248.12);
- When the landlord has actual knowledge that defective drywall was present in the property and was not remediated (§ 55-248.12:2);
- When pesticides will be used on the property (§ 55-248.13:3).
- The presence of mold in a residential property and what steps are being taken to remove the mold (§ 55-248.11:2); and
- If the landlord has actual knowledge that the property was used to manufacture methamphetamine and has not been cleaned up property (§ 55-248.12:3).
Security Deposit Information
Issues related to a security are codified in Va. Code § 55-248.15:1. The VRLTA mandates that a security deposit cannot exceed the equivalent of two months rent for a property, and the landlord is allowed to recover unpaid rent and fees for damages caused by the tenant before returning a security deposit.
The security deposit must be returned to the tenant no longer than 45 days after the termination of the tenancy and possession has been returned to the landlord. If the landlord has taken any fees from the security deposit, then an itemized list of all deductions must be included with the security deposit when returned to the tenant. If the landlord does not return the security deposit in compliance with this section, the tenant may sue the landlord and request reasonable attorney’s fees in addition to the security deposit.
Tenant’s Cannot Withhold Rent
Virginia residents do not have the right to withhold rent from the landlord, but for properties that do not meet health or safety standards or for material breaches of the lease agreement, tenants are able to take specific steps and then pay their rent into the court’s escrow account instead of the landlord.
Any Virginia tenant who intends to pay rent into the court’s escrow account should speak to a real estate attorney before doing so. An attorney will advise you on:
- The various property condition situations that allow for legal rent withholding
- The type of notice you must provide to the landlord before withholding rent
- The time frame you must give the landlord to fix the problem
- The number of times you can legally withhold rent to get a property issue solved
- How much rent you can legally withhold
- The protections you have against landlord retaliation measures such as eviction
A tenant should never withhold rent for property conditions without first going through the proper legal process. If the process is not followed, a landlord has the right to evict tenants who withhold rent.
Termination and Eviction Rules
In Virginia, a landlord may file for termination of a lease when any breach of the lease terms occurs – not just failing to pay rent, which is explained in this blog post. The standard process for evicting a tenant for a non-payment issue requires the landlord to provide the tenant with a 21 day notice to cure or correct the violation to the satisfaction of the landlord. If the violation is not resolved in 21 days, then the notice usually states that the lease will terminate nine days later (on day 30). A tenant who has a recorded history of violating conditions of the lease could be hit with an unconditional termination of the lease notice. Similarly, if the actions of the tenant were deemed as criminal, then a termination notice could take effect immediately.
Similarly, if the landlord is materially not complying with the rental agreement, a section of the VRLTA, or materially affecting the tenant’s health or safety, the tenant may give the landlord a notice saying that the lease will terminate if the issue is not resolved within 21 days. Va. Code § 55-248.21.
Virginia residential tenants have a lot of rights under the VRLTA, but landlords are also protected under Virginia law. Tenants who want to terminate a lease that is in effect before its term is up will have to negotiate that termination with the landlord. But tenants often give up their rights to stay in a property when they continually violate the terms of the lease and are not interested in solving issues with the landlord.
If you need additional information, please contact Steven Krieger Law for a consultation.
Brian Mittman is a managing partner at Markhoff & Mittman, P.C. He is experienced in workers comp, social security and personal injury law. Visit TheDisabilityGuys.com for more information.