Just like in every state, it is vital that both landlords and tenants understand what the laws are that pertain to their business relationship. Understanding the basics of state law allows both parties to deal with most legal problems or questions without the need for an attorney. Let’s take a look at those basic laws in the State of Virginia so that you will be prepared, no matter whether you are the landlord or the tenant in the arrangement.
Virginia disclosure requirements
In Virginia, landlords are required to disclose specific information upon conception of a rental agreement. This information ranges from the landlord’s name and address to anyone else that is authorized to act on the behalf of the landlord, to the condition of the property and move-in date:
- Owner/Agent: Landlord must disclose in writing the name and address of the owner or agent of the property. (Va. Code Ann. §55-248.12)
- Military zone: If the property is in a locality where a military air base is located, the landlord or his authorized agent must disclose the fact that it is in a noise or accident potential zone. (Va. Code Ann. §55-248.12:1)
- Mold: The move-in report should include whether there is visible evidence of mold; if affirmative, tenant may terminate the contract or not move in. If the tenant opts to stay, the landlord must get the mold issue handled within five days, get the property inspected again and issue a new report indicating no evidence of mold exists. (Va. Code Ann. §55-248.11:2)
- Utility billing: Any landlord that uses a ratio utility billing service, or who intends to collect monthly billing, administrative or late fees, must disclose the existence of these fees in the written agreement. (Va. Code Ann. §55-226.2)
- Condo plans: If any application to register the complex as a condo or cooperative has been filed, the landlord or authorized agent must disclose that information to prospective tenants in writing. (Va. Code Ann. §55-248.12(C).)
- Drywall issues: If a landlord knows of unrepaired defective drywall in the unit must disclose this fact in writing before the tenant signs the rental agreement. (Va. Code §55-248.12:2.)
- Move-in checklist: Landlord or tenant, but ideally both together, must prepare a written report that details the condition of the rental unit. This must be done within 5 days of move-in. Any presence of mold must be noted and handled. (Va. Code Ann. § 55-248.11:1)
- Local ordinances: Check with the city or county for additional disclosure requirements specific to the area.
Virginia Security Deposit Rules
In Virginia, state laws put a limit on how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit, when it must be returned to a tenant, and they also offer other restrictions on Virginia security deposits.
Nearly all residential rentals in Virginia will require a security deposit to be paid to the landlord. This dollar amount is typically one month’s rental payment, and is used by the landlord to pay for any damages caused by the tenants to the unit that are over and above normal wear and tear. The security deposit can also help if a tenant does not honor the terms of their lease agreement. This summary of Virginia laws pertain to security deposits:
Security deposit limit: A landlord may not charge any more than two months’ rent for a security deposit.
Security deposit return: When a tenant moves out, a landlord is required to return their security deposit within 45 days. Tenants have the right to be present at the final inspection as well.
Security deposit interest: Landlords must pay their tenants interest on their security deposit; the rate is calculated based on the Federal Reserve discount rate at the beginning of the year. Security deposit interest is only due after a landlord has held it for more than 13 months.
You can look up the actual Virginia statutes on security deposits at Virginia Code Annotated § 55-248.15:1. Keep in mind that the particular city or county might have different, or additional landlord-tenant laws or security deposit rules.
Small claims for landlord-tenant disputes
Disputes over security deposits take up the greatest percentage of landlord-tenant suits in small claims court. In the event you have a disagreement over security deposits, it is important you know that a tenant can sue his landlord in small claims court, up to a limit of $5,000. For additional information, your local realtor’s board can offer a good place to look.
Typical lawsuits of this type are filed by tenants against their landlords who they feel withheld their security deposit money without good reason. For their part, landlords often feel justified in retaining the deposit for cleaning, repairs or any rent that remains due and payable. Here are a few rules for hammering out a solution in court:
Know the law: Be sure that you understand the relevant state rules, and know that the landlord has a 45-day window to return your deposit, after itemizing any deductions. Tenants have the right to be present at the final walkthrough.
Know what your landlord can deduct: Your landlord is permitted to use your security deposit for some items; if you owe unpaid rent without giving notice, for instance, or unpaid utility bills or other obligations according to your rental agreement. Repairing damages caused by you, your pet, or any guest can be deducted, unless it is “ordinary wear and tear”. Cleaning charges can only be deducted to the extent that the unit is as clean as it was when tenancy began. A landlord can also charge you for undoing any changes that you made; for instance, painting the bedrooms a bright color or leaving hardware on a wall where a flat screen TV once resided.
Attend the final inspection: While some landlords would prefer to do this and send out itemized statements, Virginia law does require that the landlord give his tenants the right to be present at the final inspection. Using a landlord-tenant checklist upon both move-in and move-out is wise to protect both parties.
Photos and videos: Pictures and videos can go a long way in court, should it come down to that. Renters would be really smart to photograph or video every room in the rental unit upon move-in, and again before they leave the premises, resulting in a matched set of photos to prove the condition of the property.
Request your deposit: If your landlord has not returned your deposit by the end of the 45-day period, you should ask for it in writing. Spell out the facts, tell him or her that you expect them to comply with state law, and let them know that a lawsuit is forthcoming if necessary. Not only does this give your landlord the chance to return your deposit, it also helps build a case for court if it is needed. The letter also makes it more likely that punitive damages will be awarded, since the landlord failed to follow the law as it pertains to security deposits. Send your letter certified mail with a return receipt; keep a copy of the letter and the delivery receipt you get from the post office.
File your suit: If you get no response, or a less than adequate response, from your landlord, you can file in your local small claims court right away. It typically costs less than $50 to file, and attorneys are not needed. Expect it to take a month or two before your case comes up.
Virginia lease, rent and fee rules
In Virginia, there are several issues related to rent that the state regulates. For instance, how much to allow for a bounced-check fee or how long a tenant has to pay their rent before a landlord can file for eviction.
Your rental agreement or lease contract will outline your key rent rules, including your rental amount, where to pay your rent, when and how your rent should be paid, and how much notice a landlord has to give you if they intend to raise your rent. There should also be provisions for a bounced-check fee, late fees and termination procedures.
Late fees are not regulated by the state, but if your rental agreement does not make note of them, the landlord cannot charge you a late fee.
Virginia does address bounced check fees, and limits the amount to be charged to $50, pluse any amount charged by the landlord’s bank.
Virginia does not regulate how long landlords have to give tenants a notice if they intend to raise the rent and they are on a month-to-month tenancy. However, the typical standard is 30 days and the rental agreement should spell out the procedure in this case.
Notice and Entry Rules
There are a number of other landlord-tenant laws (Va. Code Ann. §§ 55-217 to 55-248.40) that people need to be aware of when entering into a rental agreement on either side. These include the landlord’s right of access to their rental property, protections against landlord retaliation, protections for domestic violence victims, and housing discrimination issues.
Landlord access is available when he or she requests it 24 hours in advance. However, if the tenant requests and requires maintenance, this does not apply. (Va. Code Ann.§ 55-248.10:1)
Tenants are protected from landlord retaliation after a tenant complains about an unsafe living condition. (Va. Code Ann. § 55-248.39)
There are additional, special protections available for tenants who are domestic violence victims, specific procedures for handling abandoned property tenants leave behind, and a ban on discriminating in rental property. (Va. Code Ann. 55-248.15:1; 36-96.3)
For further information, Virginia’s entire code is online at http://legsearch.state.va.us/. The site is user-friendly and searchable and does not require you to know the code numbers to find what you need.