Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in Virginia
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Landlords in Virginia can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Virginia.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 19, 2021
In Virginia, your landlord can evict you from your rental property if you’re late or short paying your rent, if you breached terms of the rental agreement, or if your lease has expired and your landlord decides not to renew it. This article will help you understand your legal rights and the eviction process in Virginia.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is where a landlord gets a court order requiring the tenant to move out of the rental. In Virginia, eviction is called unlawful detainer. Under state law, you can’t be evicted from your rental without a court order and only a sheriff can evict a tenant. Evictions in Virginia typically take two to four months.
Virginia landlords can never use “self-help” tactics to force a tenant to move out. This includes changing the locks, turning off utilities, or removing the tenant’s belongings from the property. If a landlord tries to do this, the tenant can bring a lawsuit against the landlord for illegal eviction.
Who Can Be Evicted in Virginia?
To be evicted in Virginia, there must be a landlord-tenant relationship. A tenant is someone who has an agreement to pay rent to a landlord in exchange for staying on their property. This agreement is often formalized in a lease agreement, but in Virginia, the lease agreement doesn’t have to be written. Anyone who’s living with the tenant can also be evicted. Virginia’s landlord-tenant laws can be found in Section 55.1 of the Virginia Code.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Virginia?
Evictions in Virginia can occur when one of the following three things happens:
The tenant hasn’t paid the rent on time.
The tenant has breached a term in the lease other than non-payment of rent, such as keeping an unauthorized pet in the rental or damaging the rental property.
The landlord has decided not to renew the lease when the lease terms end.
The eviction process for each of these is the same, but the notice requirements differ.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
In Virginia, rent is due on the first calendar day of each month unless the lease says otherwise. After the fifth day, the landlord can start charging a late fee. The landlord must give the tenant a five-day notice before filing an eviction action based on non-payment of rent. The notice must state that the renters must either move out or pay the rent owed within five days. If the tenant pays all of the unpaid rent before the five days are up, the eviction process can’t go forward.
Lease Expiration or Termination
Landlords can also start evictions based on lease expiration or lease termination.
With a lease termination, the landlord is evicting you for violating the lease. If you violate your lease by doing something other than failing to pay rent and the violation is fixable (also called curable), the landlord must give you a 30-day written notice and 21 days to cure the violation before terminating your lease. If the tenant can’t fix the problem within 21 days, the tenant will then have nine days to move out.
Common examples of curable violations include keeping an unauthorized pet in the rental, damaging the rental property, or disturbing neighbors with noise. If the problem can’t be fixed (is non-curable), the tenant must move out within 30 days of receiving the 30-day notice.
Landlords can also evict a tenant if their lease term has expired and the landlord decides not to renew the lease. In these cases, the landlord is claiming the tenant no longer has the right to stay in the property, regardless of the tenant’s status on paying rent. The landlord must give the tenant written notice before starting an eviction proceeding for a lease expiration. A weekly tenancy requires a seven-day notice to move out, and a monthly tenancy requires a 30-day notice to move out.
A landlord can also terminate a lease and evict a tenant for engaging in criminal activity without giving prior notice.
The Virginia Eviction Process
This section describes the process for residential evictions in Virginia.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
To start an eviction lawsuit, the landlord files an eviction action in either a district court or circuit court in the county where the property is located. To do this, the landlord files a document called a complaint, which asks the court for an eviction order and explains why the landlord is seeking the eviction. The landlord must first give the tenant notice before starting eviction actions, and the length of the notice depends on the reason for the eviction.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
After the landlord files the eviction complaint, the court will issue a summons. The summons notifies the tenant where and when to appear in court for the eviction hearing. In Virginia, a professional server, the sheriff, or someone who is at least 18 years old and not a party to the eviction case can serve the tenant.
The eviction notice must be served at least 10 days before the scheduled eviction hearing. It can be served by hand-delivering the complaint and summons to the tenant or a family member, mailing the summons and complaint, or posting them in a visible place at the rental property. The landlord can also get a court order to publish the notice in a newspaper.
Virginia tenants aren’t required to file a response to the eviction action with the court. Instead, they can just show up at the eviction hearing. Eviction hearings are scheduled 21 to 30 days after the eviction action is filed. The tenant can remain in the property during this time.
At the hearing, the landlord must show that the tenant violated the lease terms. The landlord can do this by producing written receipts, bank statements, photographs, witness statements, and other evidence. In defending the eviction, the tenant must raise any defenses or counterclaims with their own evidence.
If the tenant doesn’t attend the eviction hearing, the court can enter a default judgment against them, which means the landlord wins. That’s why it’s very important to attend the eviction hearing to protect your rights as a Virginia renter.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
If you fight the eviction in court, you can raise either affirmative defenses or counterclaims in response to the eviction action. An affirmative defense is where you deny the landlord’s claims. Successfully raising an affirmative defense can stop the eviction. For example, if your landlord is trying to evict you for damaging the rental unit, you can show evidence that the damage was already there when you moved in. You can do this by producing time-stamped photos of the property.
You can also raise a counterclaim to the eviction action. A counterclaim is where you claim that the landlord violated the lease terms or breached the duty to keep the rental habitable, such as cutting off utilities in the winter. A counterclaim can’t stop an eviction but it may reduce the amount of money you owe.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
The court might rule on the eviction action on the day of the hearing or a later date. If the tenant loses the case, they can appeal the decision and ask for a new hearing. You do this by filing a notice of appeal in the circuit court. You must file your appeal within 10 days of the eviction judgment. If you appeal, you must post an appeal bond, which includes all unpaid rent and up to one year of future rent. You can stay in the rental during the appeal.
If the tenant doesn’t appeal, the landlord then asks the court to issue a writ of eviction, which notifies the tenant that they either must move out or be forcibly removed from the property.
The court will issue the writ of eviction 10 days after the landlord wins the case. If a landlord doesn’t ask for the writ within 180 days of winning the case, the eviction can’t go forward and the landlord has to start the process over.
The sheriff’s office must deliver the writ of eviction to the tenant within 15 to 30 days of when it was issued. If the tenant can’t be found, the sheriff can post the writ at the property. In Virginia, only sheriffs or constables can enforce the writ of eviction. Tenants must move out within 72 hours of receiving the writ of eviction.
When the landlord files the eviction lawsuit, the landlord can provide a statement to the renter that any possessions left behind after 24 hours will be considered abandoned. If the landlord doesn’t give this notice when they file the eviction lawsuit, they must wait until 10 days after the tenant moves out before disposing of the tenant’s property.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Virginia
Communication can go a long way toward helping you avoid eviction. If your landlord has started eviction proceedings, you may be able to get them to agree to let you pay back rent through a payment plan simply by asking and explaining your financial hardship. Make sure to get any agreements in writing and that both you and your landlord sign it. If you vacate the premises, remember to return the key to the landlord.
If you can negotiate an agreement that allows you to stay, you may be able to get the landlord to drop the eviction lawsuit if you agree to vacate the premises by a specific date. Because an eviction action can damage your credit and ability to rent in the future, this might be your best option.
Retain all documents that could help you defend an eviction action. This could include receipts and bank statements if you’re claiming that you paid the rent that was owed. If your landlord is trying to evict you for damaging the property, take photos or video as evidence of the property’s condition. A municipal building inspector could also help with your case by submitting a report on the condition of the property.
Remember, it’s important to attend the eviction hearing if you want to fight the eviction. If you don’t attend the hearing, the court will likely enter a default judgment against you, giving the landlord what they want. If you absolutely can’t attend the hearing, ask the court if you can reschedule it.
Tenant Resources in Virginia
Here are some useful links and resources for tenants in Virginia:
Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) provides emergency rental assistance to Virginia renters affected by the coronavirus pandemic.