Landlords in Virginia who need to evict a tenant due to nonpayment of rent must follow Virginia’s eviction process rules.
One of the most prevalent reasons landlords in Virginia remove renters is failure to pay rent. A landlord may initiate eviction proceedings against a tenant who fails to pay rent on time.
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Virginia Rent Due Dates
In a lease or rental agreement, landlords and renters can choose any mutually agreeable rent due date. Landlords are not allowed to provide renters with a grace period, which means they may start eviction procedures against tenants the day after rent is due if it is not paid.
The landlord and tenant may agree on alternative rent due dates, such as a grace period, but the agreement must be in writing. The landlord and renter are then expected to abide by the lease conditions.
If no formal lease or rental agreement exists, Virginia law requires rent to be paid on the first of each month of the tenancy. 55.1-1204C.4 (Va. Code Ann.)
Virginia’s Pay or Quit Notice
The first stage in the eviction procedure is for the landlord to issue the tenant a five-day notice to pay or depart. As long as the landlord and tenant did not agree to a grace period in the lease, the landlord may serve the tenant a pay or leave notice the day after rent is due. The tenant has five days after getting the notice to pay or depart to either pay rent or vacate the leased property. Although Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays are included in the five-day calculation, if the final day occurs on one of these days, the landlord must wait until the following day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday to file the action (Va. Code Ann. 1-210). If the tenant does not vacate the rented unit or pay the rent, the landlord will file an eviction case in court. (See Virginia Code Ann. 55.1-1245F.)
The five-day notice to pay or resign must be written and contain the following facts to be valid:
date the notice was served on the tenant(s) tenant’s name(s) and address (s)
the reason for the notification (that the tenant failed to pay rent for a specified period of time)
entire amount of past-due rent, as well as where and to whom the rent should be paid
a declaration that the tenant has five days to pay the rent or vacate the rental unit (the notice should indicate the specific date by which this must occur), or the landlord will initiate eviction procedures, and a certificate of service indicating how the notice was served on the tenant.
Serving a Notice to Pay or Quit on the Tenant
According to Virginia law, service is lawful if the tenant genuinely saw the notice to pay or leave. In Virginia, the ideal practice for a landlord is to personally deliver the notice to pay or vacate immediately to the renter. The landlord must next complete a certificate of service detailing the time and date the notice was handed to the tenant.
If the tenant is unable to be reached in person, the landlord should post a copy of the notice in a prominent location at the rental unit, such as on the front door, and send a copy to the renter by certified mail.
The landlord and renter might alternatively agree to receive notifications through electronic means, such as email. This agreement, however, must be in writing in the lease. If the landlord and tenant did not agree on this mode of service in advance, the landlord cannot utilize it to serve the pay or vacate notice. 55.1-1202 (Va. Code Ann.)
Tenant’s Options Following a Notice to Pay or Quit
After receiving a five-day notice to pay or depart, a renter has many alternatives.
During the five-day period, the renter may pay rent. If the tenant pays the rent, the landlord is not required to continue with the eviction.
The renter is free to leave the leased unit. If the tenant does not pay rent after moving out, the landlord may still sue for unpaid rent.
If the tenant fails to pay the rent or vacate the rented property within five days, the landlord may file an eviction action in court.
Going to Virginia Court
In Virginia, the only method for a landlord to legitimately remove a tenant is to win an eviction case, often known as an illegal detainer litigation. The landlord must submit a summons for illegal detainer with the General District Court to launch the litigation. The court will set a date for a hearing before a judge and provide the renter with a copy of the summons. At the hearing, the judge will hear from both the landlord and the tenant before making an eviction judgment. If the landlord wins, he will file a writ of possession, which the sheriff will use to remove the tenant and his belongings from the leased apartment.
The Virginia court system has a database of downloadable General District Court Civil Forms, which contains various forms necessary in an eviction litigation, such as a Summons for Unlawful Detainer and a Request for Writ of Eviction.
It is illegal for a landlord to try to evict a tenant other than via the judicial system. A landlord, for example, cannot change the locks or turn off the utilities at the rented apartment. This sort of activity is known as an illegal ouster or a “self-help” eviction. If a landlord undertakes an unlawful eviction, the tenant has the right to sue. Self-help evictions may have severe consequences: The court has the authority to provide the tenant the right to return to the rental or to cancel the lease or rental agreement without penalty, as well as to compel the landlord to pay the tenant any real damages (such as relocation and temporary housing expenses) and reasonable lawyers’ fees. 55.1-1243 (Va. Code Ann.)
Additional Resources for Virginia Landlord-Tenant Relationships
More information on landlord-tenant disputes is available from Virginia Legal Aid and the Virginia Legal Aid Society. Fairfax County also offers a helpful eviction timetable.