In Virginia, there are two courts where landlord-tenant disputes can be initiated: Circuit Court or the General District Court (GDC). Va. Code Ann. §16.1-77 provides that all landlord-tenant disputes involving residential leases must be brought in GDC if the maximum potential damages, excluding interest and attorney’s fees, is less than $4,500.00. The GDC also retains jurisdiction over unlawful detainer claims for possession only with damages up to $25,000.00, and all unlawful detainer claims that involve unpaid rent regardless of the amount of damages.
Proceedings in the GDC tend to be less expensive, more expedient, and include an easier process for effectuating post-judgment executions and garnishments. For this reason, landlord-tenant disputes typically begin in GDC. Keep reading for a few pre-filing tips for landlords seeking to evict a tenant or recover rent.
1. Know Your Cause of Action
Disputes involving residential leases generally fall into two categories of actions: Unlawful Detainers and Warrants in Debt. If a landlord is seeking to evict a tenant currently residing on the property, the appropriate action would be the Unlawful Detainer, which seeks to return the property to the landlord’s possession in addition to damages. If the tenant has already vacated and the landlord is seeking to recover remaining damages under the breached lease agreement, the proper action would be a Warrant in Debt.
2. Make Sure to Serve a Notice to Pay or Quit
Before a landlord can file an Unlawful Detainer, she must give the tenant a Notice to Pay or Quit, also referred to as a “Five Day Notice to Pay or Quit.” After service, you must wait five more days before filing the unlawful detainer. The notice should be served personally by sheriff or process server so that you have proof of service. Also, send a copy by certified mail to the tenant.
3. Serve Each Tenant and “All Other Occupants.”
You must serve one copy to the tenant to whom you’re required to provide notice under the lease and serve another copy to “all additional occupants.” Without this additional service, you may only receive an unlawful detainer or eviction against one tenant, but not the remaining tenants.
4. Check the Box On the Unlawful Detainer Form if Seeking Damages Post-Filing
On the Unlawful Detainer form, there is a box that states “Plaintiff requests judgment for all amounts due as of the date of the hearing.” If a landlord does not check this box, she will not be able to receive additional rent that accrues after the filing date without requesting leave of court to amend the pleadings.
5. Make Sure to Account for “Any Other Damages and Post-Occupancy Rent”
You will need to give an accounting at the return date or final hearing to request any other rent and post-occupancy damages that may have occurred. You can ask for a continuance to determine post-occupancy damages remaining after applying a security deposit. Make sure you itemize the damages and provide receipts as required under Virginia law and return the deposit within the statutorily or legally required limits (typically, within 30 to 45 days).
6. Remember That You Can Recover Your Attorney’s Fees
The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA), which governs most landlord-tenant leases in Virginia and provides for recovery of attorney’s fees when the tenant “unreasonably” fails to pay rent, vacate the premises, or comply with certain other provisions of the lease. Recovering attorneys’ fees is also available under the common law.
Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC Can Fight for You
Are you a landlord faced with a holdover tenant? We can help you recover your property and any other damages you are entitled to. Contact the attorneys at Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC, for quality legal representation from one of our landlord-tenant attorneys. We are committed to helping you protect your legal rights and promote your legal interests.
To schedule an appointment from a member of our dedicated team of lawyers, call us at (703) 454-5147 or contact us onlinetoday.