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GUIDE TO VIRGINIA LANDLORD-TENANT LAW AND LOCAL RENTAL HOUSING IN THE NORTHERN NECK AND MIDDLE PENINSULA Legal Aid Works Legal Aid Works, Guide to Virginia Landlord-Tenant Law 1 Legal Aid Works Legal Aid Works (formerly Rappahannock Legal Services, Inc.) was established in 1973 in order to provide free civil legal assistance to low income individuals and families. The Fredericksburg office provides services to eligible residents of Planning District 16, which includes the City of Fredericksburg, as well as Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania, and Stafford counties. The rental housing information in the guide was provided by the individual property managers. The legal information was provided by Legal Aid Works. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy. All information was current at the time of publication (July, 2018). Legal Aid Works is not responsible for any changes that may have occurred after that time. Legal Aid Works Fredericksburg Office 500 Lafayette Blvd., Suite 100 Fredericksburg, Virginia PHONE: (540) (24-hour voice mail) FAX: (540) WEBSITE: Legal Aid Works would like to thank (1) the Fredericksburg City Planning Office for helping us to fund the publication of this Guide, (2) its summer law clerk Brooke Roman at William & Mary School of Law, (3) volunteers Caitlin Becker and Marty Poch for their efforts in updating changes in local rental housing and in the state landlord-tenant law since the last guide in , and (4) Ana Llanos for translating this housing guide into Spanish. Limited copies of the guide have been printed in English and Spanish. Those receiving copies are therefore encouraged to make additional copies of their own. Legal Aid Works also posts electronic copies of its English and Spanish language guides on its website. TABLE OF CONTENTS 1) Equal Opportunity in Housing 4 2) Overview of Landlord-Tenant Law 6 Legal Aid Works, Guide to Virginia Landlord-Tenant Law 2 I. Four Rules for Renters to Remember 6 II. Signing a Lease and Moving In 6 A. Written Leases 6 B. Oral Agreements 6 C. Disclosure 6 D. Security Deposits 7 E. Inspection of the Dwelling 7 F. Tenants in Foreclosed Properties 8 III. During the Rental Agreement 9 A. Tenant s Responsibilities 9 B. Landlord s Responsibilities 11 C. Right of Access by the Landlord 13 D. Temporary Relocation of the Tenant for Non-Emergency Repairs 14 E. Changes in Rental Agreements 14 F. Release of Tenant Records 14 G. Retaliatory Conduct Prohibited 15 H. Property/Homeowner s Associations 15 IV. Ending the Rental Agreement and Moving Out 15 A. Terminating Leases and Oral Agreements 15 B. Return of the Security Deposit 16 C. The Eviction Process 17 D. Disposal of Abandoned Property 19 V. Utility Termination 20 3) Rent Assistance Programs 22 I. Subsidized Housing 22 II. Tax Credit Programs 22 4) Emergency Housing 23 5) Transitional Housing 24 6) Subsidized and Section 8 Housing 25 7) Senior Housing 27 8) Where to Get Information and Assistance 29 EQUAL OPPORTUNITY IN HOUSING IT S YOUR RIGHT! YOU MAY NOT BE DENIED HOUSING BASED ON Legal Aid Works, Guide to Virginia Landlord-Tenant Law 3 RACE COLOR SEX NATIONAL ORIGIN DISABILITY ELDERLINESS FAMILIAL STATUS (families with children) Realtors, real estate agents, rental agents, and most landlords must show you ALL AVAILABLE housing based on your financial ability only! If you feel that you have been denied an opportunity to see or obtain housing, or even been treated with less enthusiasm because of your skin color, elderliness, handicap, sex, race, religion, national origin, or because you have children, PLEASE call HUD at (TTY for the hearing impaired at You can also contact the Virginia Fair Housing Office at or , or visit their website at For a free brochure explaining your rights, options, and the sometimes subtle discriminatory actions, contact the Fredericksburg Area Association of Realtors at (540) SPECIAL TIPS TO KNOW DISABLED TENANTS must be allowed to make reasonable modifications to their individual units and to the common access areas. Special parking must be allowed. A no pet policy cannot prevent a person from keeping an assist animal. For example, Seeing Eye dogs are not considered pets and MUST be allowed by most landlords. The Disability Resource Center is available to assist persons with disabilities in locating housing. Call TTY for the hearing impaired CHILDREN Although a reasonable limit on the number of occupants is allowed, this limit cannot mandate no children. For example, a 1 bedroom unit that allows 2 adults must allow 1 adult and 1 child. A 3 occupant limit must allow a single person with 2 children. NOTE: Landlords may impose occupancy standards restricting the maximum number of occupants to two (2) persons per bedroom. ELDERLINESS Although the Federal Housing Laws do not cover age, Virginia s fair housing laws make it illegal to discriminate based on elderliness. Elderliness refers to any persons who have reached their 55 th birthday. Neither landlords nor their agents are allowed to steer elderly persons away from or toward any particular housing units. Sometimes landlords or their agents make discrimination seem reasonable or acceptable. It is YOUR DECISION where to live! If you feel like you have been discriminated against, and if you want to fight it, call HUD at , or the Virginia Fair Housing Office at either or NOTE: All HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing, including housing under the Housing Choice Voucher Program, shall be made available without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. Landlords also may not ask about sexual orientation to determine eligibility for HUD-assisted housing. Legal Aid Works, Guide to Virginia Landlord-Tenant Law 4 OVERVIEW OF LANDLORD-TENANT LAW Many leases in Virginia are governed by the Virginia Residential Landlord & Tenant Act ( VRLTA ) and nationally by the Civil Rights Act of 1968 ( Fair Housing Act ). I. FOUR RULES FOR RENTERS TO REMEMBER These rules cannot prevent every problem that a renter may face, but following them is likely to prevent a lot of confusion and stress. Legal Aid Works, Guide to Virginia Landlord-Tenant Law 5 1) Read written leases completely. Not knowing what s in the lease doesn t excuse you from responsibilities. 2) Put agreements in writing. Agreements are hard to prove if they are not in writing. If the landlord tells you he will clean the carpeting after you move in, get that in writing. If it s important to you, then you will have to prove that this agreement existed. You can only do that if you have it in writing. 3) Discuss problems with the other party. Cooperation with the landlord is your best insurance for resolving problems. 4) Notify the other party in writing. If you can t resolve a problem, then a statement of the problem should be put in writing promptly and sent to the landlord. You must keep a copy of the letter to prove notification has been given. II. SIGNING A LEASE AND MOVING IN A. Written Leases A lease is a contract. You should read and understand all sections of the lease before signing. If a lease is signed by the tenant and the landlord, a copy shall be provided to the tenant within 1 month. However, failure to deliver a lease in this amount of time does not affect the validity of the agreement. Payment of rent by a tenant or collection of the rent by a landlord can create a lease between the parties even if a written lease has not been signed. B. ORAL AGREEMENTS An oral agreement needs to be put in writing to be easily enforced. Example: if a landlord tells a tenant that a dwelling will be painted, that promise should be put in writing to become part of the rental agreement. C. DISCLOSURE At the time of move-in, the landlord must give the tenant written notice of the name and address of: 1) the person or persons authorized to manage the premises, and 2) the owner, or person who acts in legal matters for the owner. Tenants moving in must be notified of any planned conversion in the next 6 months that would displace them. If the property is sold, the landlord must notify the tenant of the name, address, and phone number of the new owner. In addition, if the property is a multifamily dwelling unit located in any locality in which a military air installation is located, a prospective tenant shall be provided with a written disclosure that the property is located in a noise or accident potential zone, or both, as designated by the location on its official zoning map. If such a disclosure is not provided, a tenant may terminate the lease agreement anytime during the first 30 days by sending to the landlord a written notice of termination by certified or registered mail. TENANTS AFFECTED BY FAULTY CHINESE MANUFACTURED DRYWALL If a landlord has knowledge of the existence of defective drywall with origins of Chinese manufacturing that has not been remedied, the landlord must provide prospective tenants with a written disclosure that the property contains such defective drywall. o Any tenant not provided with the written disclosure above may end his or her lease within 60 days of discovering the defective dry wall. If a tenant wishes to end his or her lease early, the landlord must be notified in writing. Legal Aid Works, Guide to Virginia Landlord-Tenant Law 6 o Termination of the lease is the only remedy that a tenant has for a landlord s failure to disclose the defective dry wall to the tenant. NOTE: EFFECTIVE July 1, 2014, if the landlord has actual knowledge that the property was previously used to manufacture methamphetamine (meth) and has not been cleaned according to Department of Health guidelines, the landlord must provide written disclosure before renting the property. If the landlord did not disclose, then the tenant may end the lease agreement within 60 days of discovering that the property was used to manufacture meth and not cleaned by the guidelines. The tenant must provide a written notice to the landlord and terminate the lease within one month after sending that notice to the landlord. D. SECURITY DEPOSITS Before a tenant moves into a unit, the landlord may require the tenant to pay a security deposit. Here are some important facts about security deposits: 1) Security deposits cannot exceed the amount of 2 months rent. 2) When a tenant moves, the landlord may withhold all or some of the security deposit. The landlord may legally withhold the security deposit for things like unpaid rent (including late fees), damage caused by the tenant beyond reasonable wear and tear, and utility fees upon move-out. 3) Landlords can require tenants to pay the premiums for damage insurance, renter s insurance, or both. These payments are rent, and the tenant will never get them back. However, a landlord cannot require a tenant to pay more than two months rent in security deposits, damage insurance, and renter s insurance combined. Note: Where a landlord obtains damage insurance or renter s insurance for the tenant, the landlord shall name the tenant as a co-insured. If a tenant allows insurance required by the rental agreement to lapse the landlord may provide any landlord s renter s insurance to cover the tenant. The tenant will have to pay that coverage until they provide written documentation of a reinstated insurance. 4) A landlord may also require a refundable application deposit and a nonrefundable application fee. Effective July 1, 2014, landlords are no longer required to pay interest on security deposits. Many disputes occur between landlords and tenants over the amount of money that the landlord can legally withhold from a security deposit. For information about the law governing the return of the security deposit, see page 16. E. INSPECTION OF THE DWELLING An inspection of the dwelling unit when it is first occupied is very important. This inspection can ensure your security deposit is returned to you. An inspection checklist should note all damages or defects to the property in each room (such as problems with or damage to windows, doors, woodwork, ceilings and walls, floors, cabinets, plumbing pipes and fixtures, structural systems, and appliances). The inspection checklist should also indicate whether there is any visible evidence of mold in the unit. If there is visible evidence of mold, the tenant may reject the tenancy or accept the unit as is. Legal Aid Works, Guide to Virginia Landlord-Tenant Law 7 The landlord has 3 options for inspection: 1) Inspect the dwelling unit himself and provide a copy of itemized damages to the tenant within 5 days of occupancy. The tenant may request additional items to be added to the list within 5 days of receiving the landlord s report. 2) Adopt a written policy to allow the tenant to submit the itemized damage list. 3) Adopt a written policy to provide that the landlord and tenant shall prepare the inspection report jointly. If the landlord does not follow any of these three options, a tenant should still submit an itemized damage list of his own. F. TENANTS IN FORECLOSED PROPERTIES Virginia Law A landlord must give written notice to a tenant of a mortgage default, notice of mortage acceleration, or notice of foreclosure sale within 5 business days after written notice from the lender. A landlord must notify a tenant in writing within 5 business days of the landlord receiving written notice from their mortgage lender of a mortgage default, of mortgage acceleration, or of a foreclosure sale. o If the landlord fails to provide the notice required, the tenant has the option to immediately terminate the lease agreement upon 5 business days notice to the landlord and is entitled to a return of the security deposit in accordance with the law or the rental agreement, whichever is applicable. o If the dwelling is vacant, the landlord must disclose to any prospective tenants in writing at or before the start of tenancy of a mortgage default, notice of mortgage acceleration or notice of foreclosure sale relating to the dwelling unit. o The landlord is not required to notify tenant if the managing agent does not receive written notice from the mortgage lender or if the tenant provides a copy of written notice from the lender to the landlord (such as if the notice comes to the rental property and the tenant gives the notice to the landlord.) NOTE: A tenant who entered into a lease before a notice of foreclosure may remain in the foreclosed property until the end of the lease unless the property is purchased by a bona fide purchaser who will reside in the property as their primary residence. In which case, the tenant must receive 90 day notice before being forced to vacate. III. DURING THE RENTAL AGREEMENT Landlords and tenants both have specific rights and responsibilities during the lease. It is important to know these rights and responsibilities. Otherwise, both landlords and tenants may unknowingly violate the law. A. TENANT S RESPONSIBILITIES 1. PAYMENT OF RENT Legal Aid Works, Guide to Virginia Landlord-Tenant Law 8 Rent must be paid at the time and place designated by the landlord, and in the form requested (cash, check, money order). Effective July 1, 2014, landlords may require that tenants pay the government or service fees for energy submetering if the technology is included in the home and if the lease allows for these payments. They are nonrefundable and count as rent. Failure to pay rent when due, including repeated late payment of rent, or the voluntary withholding of rent (for whatever reason) may be a violation of the rental agreement. This may cause the landlord to take the following protective measures allowed by law: a) Five day pay-or-quit notice: The landlord may issue a notice giving the tenant 5 days to pay the rent in full or vacate the premises. b) Unlawful detainer warrant: Issuance of such notice allows a landlord the right to begin eviction proceedings against a tenant in the local general district court. However, it does not relieve a tenant of his obligation to fulfill the terms of the rental agreement. c) Eviction: If full payment of rent is not made within 5 days and the tenant fails to vacate, the landlord must file an unlawful detainer action in order to have the tenant evicted. The eviction will be dismissed if the tenant pays all rent that is owed (plus reasonable late charges and attorney fees, if any, and court costs) to the landlord or into the court on or before the first court date (known as the return date ) stated on the unlawful detainer warrant. However, a tenant may only make this type of payment once every 12 months. If the tenant disputes the amount of rent owed, he must appear on the return date to get a second court date for a hearing on the dispute. If the court enters a judgment for possession in favor of the landlord at the first or second court date, the tenant has 10 days to appeal to Circuit Court and post an approved bond. Otherwise, on the 11th day, the local sheriff can serve a writ of possession to forcibly evict the tenant and his/her belongings. If the tenant does not voluntarily move within 72 hours of being served the writ of possession, the sheriff can return to forcibly evict the tenant and his property. UNDER VIRGINIA LAW, A LANDLORD CANNOT FORCIBLY EVICT A TENANT ON HIS OWN. THE LANDLORD MUST USE THE COURTS TO DO SO. THUS, THE LANDLORD CANNOT LOCK OUT A TENANT OR TERMINATE THE TENANT S UTILITIES ON HIS OWN. The estimated length of time from the 5 day pay-or-quit notice to actual forced eviction of the tenant is about 30 days without a hearing. An extra 2-4 weeks are required with a hearing. Charges for late rent: Fredericksburg and Stafford General District Court judges have ruled that late charges greater than 10% of the monthly rent are excessive and illegal under state usury and consumer protection laws; but not all local judges have accepted these rulings. Rent Check Drawn on Insufficient Funds: If a landlord receives, as a rent payment, a check or electronic funds transfer taken from an account without enough money to cover the value of the check or electronic transfer, OR if a stop-payment order has been placed in bad-faith by the tenant, written notice may be given to the tenant requiring payment within 5 days by cash, cashier s check, certified check, or completed electronic funds transfer. If such payment is not received, the landlord may take action to evict the tenant just like he can when a tenant fails to pay rent. A landlord may also charge a bad check fee not to exceed $ Legal Aid Works, Guide to Virginia Landlord-Tenant Law 9 2. MAINTAINING A CLEAN AND SAFE DWELLING A tenant has the obligation to maintain a clean and safe dwelling. Tenants must: 1) Conduct themselves and require their visitors to conduct themselves in a manner that doesn t violate the peace and enjoyment of the neighbors; 2) Not deliberately destroy or damage any part of the dwelling; 3) Abide by all reasonable and lawful rules and regulations of the lease; 4) Use all utilities, facilities, and appliances in a reasonable manner; 5) Keep all fixtures as clean as their conditions permit; 6) Regularly remove all garbage and waste and dispose of it in appropriate facilities; 7) Keep their house or apartment in a clean and safe condition; 8) Comply with all applicable housing and fire codes; 9) Not remove or tamper with a working smoke alarm or carbon monoxide alarm installed by the landlord so as to make it not work (including removing working batteries) and maintain all smoke alarm; 10) Maintain the carbon monoxide alarm in accordance with the uniform set of standards for maintenance of carbon monoxide alarms established in the Uniform Statewide Building Code. 11) Keep their house or apartment free from insects and pests and promptly notify the landlord of any insects or pests; and 12) Refrain from painting, disturbing paint, or making alterations to dwellings containing landlorddisclosed lead-based paint without prior written consent from the landlord if the
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