As a property owner, tenant eviction is inevitable. Some of the common reasons that can lead to this include nonpayment of rent and negligent property damage. If you find yourself with a problematic Virginia tenant and want to evict them, there’s a certain process you must follow.
Ignoring Virginia’s rules can lead to derailing the process, or worse, land you a lawsuit for damages.
In this post, we’ll take you through the entire eviction process in Virginia so that you avoid the common pitfalls when evicting a tenant.
Notice Termination with Cause
In Virginia, tenants have a right to a fair and judicial eviction process.
In any tenant eviction, the first step is serving an eviction notice. An eviction notice informs a tenant about the violation they’ve committed and offers them various options.
Nonpayment of rent is one of the top reasons for tenant eviction. In such a case, the state of Virginia requires landlords to serve a 5-Days’ Notice to Pay or Quit. It basically tells the tenant that they have 5 days to either pay the outstanding rent debt or to move out of the property.
If they choose to pay the due rent, then no further action is needed on your part. However, if they don’t pay and they refuse to move out, then you can move to court for further their intervention.
For lease violations involving illegal alterations to the property or keeping unauthorized pets, you must serve the tenant a 30-days’ Cure or Quit Notice. Likewise, it gives the tenant two options: fix the violation or move out.
Again, if they choose to fix the violation, then you must stop further eviction proceedings forthwith. But if they don’t and they refuse to move out, then you can move to court for further action.
Another common lease violation involves excessive property damage. As a Virginia landlord, in a case like this, you must serve the tenant with an Unconditional Quit Notice. Unlike the previous two notices, this one doesn’t give the tenant an option to cure the violation. Their only option is to move out. If they don’t, you can move to court and seek their intervention.
For gross lease violations like illegal drug related activities, you don’t require to serve the tenant with any notice. You can immediately move to court and file for their removal.
Notice Termination Without Cause
As already aforementioned, you cannot just wake up one day and decide you no longer want the tenant in your property. To remove your tenant, you need a legitimate reason like nonpayment of rent or serious lease violation.
Without a legitimate reason, the best you can do is wait until the lease expires.
Generally, rental contracts usually run month-to-month or on fixed-term basis. A month-to-month agreement is usually referred to as a rental agreement, while a fixed-term one is referred to as a fixed-term lease.
To terminate a rental agreement, you must serve the tenant with a 30-days’ notice. You may then move to court if they insist on staying put.
To terminate a fixed-term lease, a notice isn’t necessary unless the agreement states otherwise. That’s because a lease usually states when it begins and when it ends.
Tenant Eviction Defenses in the State of Virginia
In some cases, a tenant may decide to put up a fight against their eviction. Common eviction defenses in Virginia include:
1. You tried to evict them yourself.
No matter the violation, you cannot evict a tenant from the unit. The only person mandated to carry out that process is a sheriff through a court order. If you attempt to shut off the utilities or block their access to the property, a court would probably rule that you have “constructively evicted” your tenant.
All forms of constructive evictions are illegal. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1243 (2020))
2. You failed to follow the right eviction procedure.
Landlords must follow the proper eviction procedure if they wish to succeed in their efforts. Making a procedural mistake will lead to automatic dismissal of the eviction suit. When this happens, you may have to redo the entire process all over again.
Common procedural mistakes include failing to serve the correct eviction notice and making errors in court filings.
3. You are retaliating against your tenant.
All forms of tenant retaliation are illegal in the state of Virginia. For instance, you can’t retaliate against your tenant for joining or organizing a tenants’ union. You also can’t retaliate against a tenant for complaining to a government agency about a safety, health or building code violation. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1258 (2020).)
4. The tenant is a victim of domestic abuse.
Virginia landlords, under certain circumstances, cannot terminate the tenancy of a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence. That said, domestic violence victims must take the necessary steps to meet the requirements. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1245(D) (2020).)
5. The tenant fixed the violation.
As already mentioned, you must stop the eviction proceedings forthwith once a tenant fixes a violation. If you don’t, your tenant can use that as justification against the eviction. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1245(B) (2020)).
6. You failed to perform your responsibilities.
A tenant can also use your unresponsiveness to perform your maintenance responsibilities as a defense in court. They may cite that they withheld rent because you failed to act on a repair or maintenance issue that impacted their health or safety.
7. The eviction is a discriminatory act.
The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on 7 protected classes. The classes are: sex, religion, race, color, national origin, disability, and familial status. The state of Virginia also passed an amendment to this law to include elderliness as well.
Trying to evict a tenant based on any one of these characteristics will render the process null and void.
Still have more questions? If you do, then look no further than Lonnie Bush Property Management. We understand Virginia tenancy laws and can help you handle all your property’s legal aspects, including a tenant eviction.