Must a lease be written to be enforceable?
Yes. A landlord must offer a written lease. If the landlord does not do that,
the law sets out a specific lease that will apply. This lease has these rules.
The lease is 12 months with no automatic renewal. Rent is paid in 12 monthly
payments. Rent is due on the first of the month and late after the fifth of
the month. A late fee of no more than 10 percent of periodic rent or 10 percent of the unpaid balance, whichever is less, may be charged. The security deposit can be
no more than two months’ rent. The landlord and tenant still may enter into a
What should I be concerned about when signing a lease?
As with any written contract, you should understand and agree with all of the
terms. Leases usually are form contracts that may contain language not easily
understood and that may unfairly favor the landlord. If you do not understand
something, ask the landlord questions and obtain clarification in writing, or
seek help from a lawyer. Signing a lease begins a relationship with your
landlord that will continue throughout the term of the lease. You therefore
should keep records of rental payments, written repair requests, etc.
What are my obligations as a tenant?
You must adhere to the terms of the lease. Generally, you are obligated to pay
the rent and to maintain the property in the condition you received it, except
normal wear and tear. A good tenant is mindful of neighbors’ rights as well.
Generally, no other people may move in with you without a written change to
the lease signed by you and the landlord.
Are there specific laws in Virginia that govern landlord/tenant relationships?
Yes. The Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act (VRLTA) applies to all
residential rentals. The VRLTA balances rights and obligations between tenant
and landlord. Many rental properties use standard leases reflecting the terms
of the VRLTA. The VRLTA will apply even if the lease does not reflect the
terms of the VRLTA.
What is a security deposit and how is it used?
A security deposit is an amount of money, not to exceed two months’ rent,
required by the landlord at the beginning of a lease term. It serves as
security for the landlord to cover any damages to the leased property above
and beyond normal wear and tear caused by the tenant or their guests or to
cover unpaid rent and late charges.
The landlord and tenant should walk through the property together at the
beginning and at the end of the lease term. An inspection report should be
signed by both the landlord and the tenant at the beginning of the lease to
document the condition of the property. Both parties should keep a copy of the
report. This report will protect the tenant from an unscrupulous landlord who
may try to keep the security deposit to pay for a condition that existed prior
to leasing the property. The tenant and a witness should draft a list if the
landlord won’t do a walkthrough.
The security deposit is not supposed to be used for the last month’s rent, but
it must be returned to the tenant after the landlord conducts a favorable
walk-through inspection after the lease expires. Landlords under the VRLTA
have forty-five days after tenant moves out before they have to return or
account for the use of the security deposit.
In a monthly lease, can I end the lease by just leaving at the end of a month?
No. Unless the parties agree otherwise, if the lease term is month to month,
thirty days’ written notice to the landlord is required.
If I sign a lease with friends, and they move out, do I have to pay the full
rent or only my share?
Most leases signed by more than one person provide that the tenants are
“jointly and severally liable” for the rental payments. That means the
landlord has the right to seek the entire monthly rent from any one of the
co-tenants even though one or more may have moved. However, if one tenant pays
more than their share, they may be able to seek contribution from the
co-tenants that abandoned the lease.
If I break a lease, for what amount can I be sued?
If you break a lease, your landlord may seek the loss of rent to the end of
the lease term minus any amount received when the property is re-let (leased
to another party). The landlord also can seek recovery for any damages to the
property above ordinary wear and tear. Lastly, the landlord may be entitled to
attorneys’ fees, court costs, and late fees.
How does a landlord terminate a lease for nonpayment of rent?
A landlord may terminate a lease for nonpayment of rent by giving notice to
the tenant to either pay what is owed or leave the property. If the tenant
pays within five days of receiving that notice, the tenant may remain. If
payment is not made, the landlord may begin proceedings to evict the tenant by
filing an “unlawful detainer” (eviction) action with the court. If the lease
calls for it, a landlord also may recover reasonable attorney’s fees in the
event of breach of lease. A tenant may exercise a “right of redemption” by
paying the amount outstanding, including any applicable attorneys’ fees, court
costs, and late charges, at or before the first return hearing. If the landlord has 5 or more rentals, a tenant may use these rights at any time. If the landlord has 4 or fewer rentals, the landlord may limit these rights to once during the lease period if the landlord first sends a written notice.
Can a landlord use “self-help” eviction methods?
A landlord may not unlawfully exclude a tenant from the premises, interrupt an essential service, or make the unit unsafe. If this happens, the tenant may file a Tenant’s Petition for Relief from Unlawful Exclusion in General District Court and get a court hearing in 5 calendar days.
When can my landlord enter the space I have rented?
The landlord has a right to access the property. If the VRLTA applies, a landlord may enter the property without consent of the tenant in the case of emergency or upon the tenant’s request for maintenance. Otherwise, the landlord may access the property at reasonable times after giving notice to the tenant (at least twenty-four hours’ notice is required for routine maintenance that has not been requested). A tenant may not unreasonably withhold consent to the landlord to enter the property in order to inspect the property, make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations, or improvements, supply necessary or agreed services, or show the property to prospective purchasers. A tenant may be found in breach of the lease if they do not allow the landlord to access the property. If covered by the VRLTA, refer to Virginia Code Sections 55-.1-1210 and 55.1-1229.
What can I do if a landlord refuses to make repairs to the premises?
A tenant has the right to a fit and habitable rental unit. The landlord must make all repairs needed to keep premises fit and habitable. To enforce the right to get repairs, a tenant must be current in rent, give the landlord a written notice, and wait a reasonable period. If repairs are not made, a tenant can file a Tenant’s Assertion in General District Court. This must be filed no later than 5 days after rent is due. There is no rent withholding in Virginia, except under “repair and deduct.”
If an issue on the property affects life, health, safety, or seriously affects habitability, and a landlord has not begun to address it within 14 days after written notice from the tenant, the tenant may contract to have the repair done by a licensed contractor. The cost may be not more than $1,500 or one month’s rent, whichever is more. The tenant must send the landlord an itemized invoice and a receipt for payment to the contractor for the work done, along with any payment of remaining rent owed.
A tenant should never simply withhold rent, because the landlord may then terminate the tenancy for non-payment. If covered by the VRLTA, refer to Virginia Code Section 55.1-1234.
Am I liable for rent under the lease if I am in the military and am transferred
There are certain circumstances in which military members may terminate a lease. Certain notice is required, and you should contact the legal assistance office at your base for advice on how to proceed at least sixty days before you plan to leave. You also may have rights under a Federal law called the “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.” If covered by the VRLTA, refer to Virginia Code Section 55.1-1235.
Are there laws that govern the rental of mobile home lots in mobile home parks?
Yes. The Virginia Manufactured Home Lot Rental Act seeks to protect landlords and tenants of mobile home lots. The law has very specific provisions, and if you have a dispute involving the rental of a mobile home lot you should contact an attorney for advice.