4 Things Landlords Need to Know About Virginia Unlawful Detainers

Rental arrangements work well until either Landlord or Tenant fails to honor their respective responsibilities as set forth in the lease agreement and applicable law. A landlord’s counterpart to a Tenant’s Assertion is an Unlawful Detainer. This post will describe Virginia’s Unlawful Detainer process, which allows Landlords to enforce the terms of the lease against a non-compliant Tenant.

  1. Landlords Cannot Use Self-Help During Evictions

Landlords cannot use self-help when evicting a tenant and Va. Code Ann. § 55-248.26 states such. If a Landlord uses self-help to take possession of the rental unit outside of established legal processes by changing the locks, putting the Tenant’s possessions outside on the curb, or turning off utilities, that may constitute a prohibited self-help eviction. Rather, the Unlawful Detainer process establishes the procedure by which a Landlord may lawfully evict a tenant to regain possession of the rental property.

  1. Notice to the Tenant is Required Before a Landlord Initiates Unlawful Detainer Proceedings

While most Unlawful Detainer proceedings begin after a Tenant has failed to pay rent in a timely fashion, violations of other lease terms can also result in eviction. Va. Code Ann. § 55-225.43 gives the notice requirements for these eviction grounds for leases that are governed by the common law; Va. Code Ann. § 55-248.31 provides the rules for leases that are governed by the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (“VRLTA”).

In either case, before initiating Unlawful Detainer Proceedings, a Landlord should provide 5 days written notice of failure to pay rent and 30 days written notice for other lease violations (with 21 days to remedy the violation, if possible). Landlords can seek immediate possession of the premises without advance notice if the Tenant or the Tenant’s guests engage in criminal or willful acts that also pose a threat to health and safety.

  1. A Landlord Initiates Unlawful Detainer Proceedings Against a Tenant By Filing The ‘Summons For Unlawful Detainer’

According to Va. Code Ann. §8.01-126, “[i]n any case when possession of any house, land or tenement is unlawfully detained by the person in possession thereof, the landlord, his agent, attorney, or other person, entitled to the possession may present to a magistrate or a clerk or judge of a general district court a statement under oath of the facts which authorize the removal of the tenant or other person in possession, describing such premises….” In other words, after providing legally sufficient notice, the Landlord opens an Unlawful Detainer case against a Tenant by filing a form called the Summons for Unlawful Detainer (Civil Claim for Eviction) in the General District Court where the rental property is located. An officer of the Court will then attempt to serve the Tenant with a summons, notifying him of the initial court date.

  1. Successful Unlawful Detainer Proceedings End with a Writ

The initial return date gives the Tenant an opportunity to admit or deny the allegations in his Unlawful Detainer paperwork. A Tenant who fails to appear risks the entry of a default judgment for possession and monetary damages, including unpaid rent, court costs, and attorneys’ fees if provided for under the lease. The court can also issue a writ of possession (or “writ of eviction”), which authorizes eviction. If the tenant appears at the initial return date and admits all of the allegations, then the court will enter a judgment for possession, rent, and fees. Tenants who deny some or all of the Landlord’s allegations will go to trial. After hearing evidence regarding allegations of unpaid rent and/or other lease violations on some later date, the Court will decide whether the Landlord is entitled to recover possession of the rental unit from the Tenant. When the tenant appears in connection with the proceedings, a writ of possession typically will not issue until at least 10 days after the judgment for possession.

If you are a Landlord with a Tenant who is failing to comply with the terms of his lease agreement, it is critical that you follow the established procedure to ensure a lawful and efficient outcome. The attorneys at Keithley Law, PLLC are experienced in the Unlawful Detainer process.

Are you having tenant issues? Don’t hesitate to contact our legal team at Keithley Law to schedule an initial consultation today.

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