Each state has specific laws that govern landlord/tenant disputes. The vast majority of these laws are governed at the state level, while there are some anti-discrimination laws that are governed at the federal level and some local ordinances that are governed at the municipal level. Typically, local ordinances will apply to cities and larger townships. For information on those, you should check with municipal courts in your area.
> Anti-Discrimination Laws
> Avoiding the Appearance of Discrimination
> State of Virginia Landlord/Tenant Statutes
> Virginia Laws Regarding Security Deposits
> Virginia Laws Regarding Rent and Fees
> Virginia Laws Regarding Voluntary Lease Termination
> Landlord’s Obligation to Maintain Dwelling Unit
> Tenant’s Responsibilities to Maintain Dwelling Unit
> Virginia Laws on Termination
> Notices of Entry
> Domestic Violence Situations
> Landlord Retaliation
> Helpful Links for Landlords and Tenants
Federal Laws Governing Housing Discrimination
In 1968, Congress extended the Civil Rights Act to include housing discrimination. This is known as the Fair Housing Act and can be found in Title VI & Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act. In addition, housing discrimination laws are impacted by the Americans with Disabilities Act which extends certain protections to those with disabilities.
Federal law prohibits housing discrimination toward others on the basis of:
- Race or color,
- Religion or creed,
- Sex or gender,
- Nation of origin,
- Familial status,
- And disability.
This prohibits discriminatory language in rental advertisements, denying housing on the basis of a protected characteristic, and some other practices that are more subtle.
For instance, a landlord is prohibited from charging added rent or a security deposit based on the presence of children in the rental unit. In addition, a landlord may not deny a disabled individual a “reasonable” accommodation. This includes refusing to waive a no-pets policy based on the presence of a service animal. Service animals, by law, are not considered pets. “Emotional support” or “therapy animals,” on the other hand, do not constitute “service animals.” A landlord is allowed to ask for proof that the animal is a service animal and that the applicant requires one.
Virginia Housing Discrimination Laws
Virginia housing discrimination laws, in addition to containing all federal provisions for discrimination, also prohibit the refusal to rent on the basis of “elderliness,” which means anyone over the age of 55.
Exemptions to Virginia Housing Discrimination Laws
The State of Virginia provides some exemptions to housing discrimination laws. A landlord who owns three or fewer single-family homes is exempted from discrimination laws under the law (§ 36-96.2 (A)). In addition, discrimination laws do not apply to owner-occupied buildings that have four or fewer rental units in the building (§ 36-96.2 (B)). The law also allows “clubs” or “religious” buildings to prohibit rental based on group membership (§ 36-96.2 (C)).
One method competent landlords use to avoid the appearance of discrimination is to accept the first qualified candidate. There are valid reasons for denying a rental application. These include poor credit history or prior felony convictions. A landlord can ask an applicant to submit to a background check or look into their credit report. Taking the first qualified applicant makes your decision-making process transparent and protects you from liability under both state and federal housing discrimination laws.
You can find all laws related to Virginia security deposits in § 55-248.15:1.
Landlords are prohibited from charging more than two months rent for a security deposit, but there are no statutes related to how or where the security deposit must be kept. Some landlords elect to hold the security deposit in an interest-bearing account but are under no obligation to return the security deposit with interest. If the landlord chooses to deduct repairs from the security deposit, they are obligated to keep an itemized record of deductions on hand for the next 2 years. The landlord has 45 days to return the security deposit after the tenant has moved out.
If a tenant is asked to put a holding deposit on a property that they intend to rent, but do not end up renting the landlord has either 20 or 10 days to return the deposit depending on who broke the deal. If the tenant broke the deal, the landlord has 20 days to return the deposit. If the landlord rejects the tenant’s application, then the landlord has 10 days to return the deposit.
Virginia has some unique statutes regarding how prepaid rent is to be managed. If a tenant pays a landlord in advance, the landlord is obligated to hold the rent in an FDIC insured depository until the time at which that rent becomes due. So, if a tenant pays in advance for a year, the landlord is expected to the deposit the entire amount in an escrow account and withdraw from that account on monthly basis or whatever the period is for rent (§ 55-248.7:1).
There are, however, no statutes regarding late fees or notices of rental increase. Landlords are advised to include this information in the lease in order to enforce such terms under contract law.
If the tenant bounces a check to the landlord, the landlord is allowed to collect $50 plus any other damages related to the bounced check, including attorney’s fees.
If the term of a lease is more than 60 days, either party may terminate the lease on 60 days notice. However, landlords are allowed to ask for more than 60 days notice if it is specified and agreed to in the lease (§ 55-248.46). There are special provisions for military personnel.
Virginia establishes that the landlord has certain duties to the tenant. These are generally referred to as the implied warranty of habitability. They can be found in § 55-225.3.
The landlord is bound by Virginia law to all of the following:
- Ensuring that the rental unit complies with all building codes;
- Making any repairs necessary to keep the premises habitable;
- Keeping common areas clean, safe, and sanitary;
- Maintaining in working order: plumbing, heat, water, electricity and other structural elements that keep those inside safe;
- Ensuring that there are locks on doors and windows;
- Controlling and removing the presence of any mold;
- Ensuring that garbage receptacles are provided to the tenants;
- Ensuring that smoke detectors are present and in working order.
Virginia establishes that tenants too have specific duties to the rental unit. They can be found in § 55-225.4.
- Complying with any obligations of the lease to ensure the premises are sanitary;
- Keeping the premises free of insects and other pests;
- Keeping plumbing fixtures clean and working;
- Ensuring that all utilities such as electricity, heat, and other services are paid for if not included in the cost of rent;
- Repairing any deliberate destruction to the premises by themselves or their guests;
- Keeping any smoke alarms in working order and not removing the batteries to render them inoperative;
- Alerting the landlord to any problems with the rental unit promptly.
In addition, tenants are not authorized to paint or otherwise make major changes to the premises without the prior consent of the landlord. Tenants are responsible for the conduct of any individuals they invite onto the premises. Lastly, a tenant may be responsible for the cost of extermination if there is an unreasonable delay in reporting an infestation.
If the rental unit does not provide essential functions, the tenant can withhold rent from the landlord until the problem is fixed. However, there is a procedure for doing so. This is outlined in § 55-248.27. The tenant should assert (in writing) that there is a material noncompliance with the implied warranty of habitability. They should specify what the material noncompliance is and give the landlord a reasonable amount of time in order to fix the problem. If the tenant elects to withhold rent, they must deposit the withheld rent into an escrow account. They can not simply spend that money.
If a tenant is delinquent in rent, the landlord may issue a five-day notice to remedy or quit. In other words, the tenant has five days to repay the arrearage or break the lease. If the tenant does not repay the rent within five days, the landlord may initiate eviction proceedings (§ 55-225).
If the tenant violates some provision of the lease, the landlord can issue a 21-day notice to remedy or a 30-day notice to quit. In other words, the tenant has 21 days to remedy the violation or the least will be broken after 30 days and the landlord may initiate an eviction against them.
In certain circumstances, such as illegal conduct on the premises, the breach may not be remedied by the tenant. In that case, the tenant has 30 days to vacate.
Under no circumstances, however, may landlords use “self-help” remedies to evict a tenant (§ 55-225.1). This includes utility shutoffs and lockouts. Landlords cannot include provisions in the lease that enable them to use self-help remedies. Such provisions are void and unenforceable under Virginia law.
Landlords are required to give tenants 24 hours of notice before entry (§ 55-248.18) in non-emergency situations. If the landlord is paying to have an exterminator come onto the premises to control a pest situation, the landlord must give the tenant 48 hours notice. If there is an emergency, the landlord may enter the unit without the consent of the tenant or notice.
Victims of family abuse, sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence are allowed to make certain requests of the landlord. This includes the right to terminate the lease on 30 days notice. The landlord is allowed to ask for proof (§ 55-225.16).
This blog entry is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Landlords and Tenants are encouraged to seek specific legal advice for any of the issues as found in this blog.