In Virginia, there are several steps that a landlord must take to evict a tenant. Below is a step by step process that the landlord must take, and how to react/contend at each step.
- The Lease
You most likely signed a lease when you moved into your residence. You and the landlord are both required to follow the terms of the lease. The easiest way to evict a tenant is by the tenant violating the lease. This could be a monetary violation- you did not pay your rent, or a physical violation- you have a pet in the apartment when you are not allowed, you have an open fire on your porch and you’re not allowed, etc. (If your landlord is violating the lease, you can file a tenant’s assertion against your landlord.)
If your landlord believes that you are violating the lease, your landlord is required to give you notice. This will come in the form of a 5 day pay or quit letter or a 30 breach of lease notice. If you owe money to the landlord, the 5 day pay or quit is utilized. If you have breached the lease in other terms, the 30 day breach of lease notice is utilized.
Remedy: At this point, you can remedy the problem your landlord is accusing you of, or if they have falsely accused you, send proof to the landlord of their mistake and the issue should go away. If you owe back rent and you pay the amount due, the landlord cannot go through with the eviction.
- Unlawful Detainer.
If you do not remedy the problem after the notice, the landlord can file an Unlawful Detainer in the General District Court where you reside. The landlord can file this either 5 days or 30 days after the notice is given (depending on the type of notice. You will then get served with the Unlawful Detainer, which will have a Court date on it.
Remedy: You can contact the landlord and attempt to remedy the situation before the hearing date. If you remedy the situation, make sure your landlord removes the hearing from the Court’s docket. However, if your landlord refuses to remove the hearing from the docket, you must appear at Court.
- First Hearing
Most Virginia Courts have a first hearing on the Unlawful Detainer. This first hearing is to see if you appear. If you do not appear, the landlord will receive a default judgment against you. If you do appear, the Judge will ask you if you admit to the breach of the lease. If you admit to the breach of the lease, the Judge will give a judgment against you. If you deny the breach of the lease, the Judge will set the matter for a hearing date.
Remedy: Most Courts will not hear your case at the first hearing. I would highly recommend you contact the Court and find out what this hearing entails. If they are going to hear the entire case, you should consult with an attorney and be ready to try the case. If it is just a return hearing, which is how Fairfax County General District Court operates, you just need to appear.
- Second Hearing
The second hearing will be the trial date. This is the hearing where you present your evidence to the Court of why you did not breach the lease. If the landlord is stating you owe money and you can show receipts of payments, then the case could be dismissed. If the landlord is accusing you of a physical violation, you have to prove that you are not in violation. If the Court believes the landlord’s evidence, the Court will rule against you. If the Court believes your evidence, then the Court will dismiss the action.
Remedy: The Court will decide the outcome.
After the Court enters a ruling, either party can appeal the ruling to the Circuit Court in that County. If the landlord prevails in the General District Court, and a money judgment is awarded, you will have to file an appeal bond, usually, the amount of the judgment, to appeal. The case is then heard in a new trial by the Circuit Court.
Remedy: The appeal is your last chance to fight an eviction. Once a judgment has been entered and the appeal period has lapsed, you can no longer fight the eviction.
- Judgment for Immediate Possession
Once the landlord receives a judgment for immediate possession and the appeal period has lapsed, the landlord will file for a Writ of Possession in the General District Court where the landlord received judgment. The Writ of Possession asks the sheriff to physically evict the tenants. The sheriff, then within 30 days will proceed with an eviction. An eviction occurs when the landlord, through the sheriff, physically removes your belongings and places them on the tree lawn or changes the locks to the residence and allows you 24 hours to remove your possession. Any possession not removed from the tree lawn or the residence can be sold to pay for any money damages awarded to the landlord.
The best advice if you are in this situation is:
- Don’t wait until the last minute- try to remedy the problem when you receive the first notice.
- Attend the Court hearing- if you don’t, judgment will automatically be entered against you.
- Consult a lawyer- there may be a procedural problem with the eviction process, made by the landlord, which could stop the eviction. A lawyer can help you through the process and get the most out of it for you.
If you’re ready going through the eviction process, contact Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office with one of our real estate attorneys. We can walk you through the steps to get the most out of your case