How Recent Changes to the VRLTA (and the Common Law) Affects Landlords and Tenants

Every Virginia landlord or tenant should be aware of the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act (VRLTA). The VRLTA’s passage and amendments have comprehensively reformed Virginia landlord tenant law. Most residential leases in Virginia are governed by the VRLTA.

Historically, the VRLTA did not apply to most residential leases. Rentals by non-commercial landlords, or those owning a smaller number of properties, were solely governed by Virginia’s ‘common law’. The common law is codified as Chapter 13 of Title 55 of the Virginia code, while the newer VRLTA is Chapter 13.2.

  1. What Did the VRLTA Change?

At first, the VRLTA was primarily an addition to the common law. It may have been initially contemplated that the VRLTA was only supposed to apply to “professional” landlords with multiple units, tenants, and contracts, while the common law was enough to cover small-time landlords. Back in 1974, the VRLTA introduced stricter standards and formalized rules, rights, and procedures.

  1. How Did the Common Law Change?

The common law as codified in Chapter 13 dates back to 1919. Recently, this chapter has been amended so that many sections now closely resemble provisions formerly found only in the VRLTA. While the common law ‘gap fills’ for topics not addressed by the VRLTA, many of the overlapping provisions are now nearly indistinguishable.

Thus, the ‘expansion’ provided by the VRLTA, once optional for most small landlords, is now better understood as a comprehensive ‘update’ to prior Virginia landlord tenant law.

  1. How Has the VRLTA Changed Since Enactment?

The VRLTA itself has undergone many amendments since 1974, when it was first enacted. The following list surveys a few recent changes.

  1. All Landlords With Three or More Residential Units Must Follow the VRLTA

In 2017, the VRLTA’s scope expanded to “apply to occupancy in all single-family and multifamily residential dwelling units and multifamily dwelling unit located in the Commonwealth” with an optional exclusion for the landlord who “owns no more than two single-family residential dwelling units in its own name subject to a rental agreement”. Va. Code Ann. § 55-248.3:1. A single-family home has been considered to be one ‘unit’.

  1. Exemption-Eligible Landlords Must Expressly Opt-Out to be Exempt

Landlords with two or fewer residential units “may opt out of the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act [] by so stating in a rental agreement with a tenant.” Va. Code Ann. § 55-248.3:1. Previously, absent a lease provision affirmatively incorporating the VRLTA, the statute did not apply to otherwise-exempt landlords. Now, the VRLTA is applicable by default to all residential landlords, no matter how many units, unless it is expressly opted out of. Nevertheless, because the common law now closely tracks the VRLTA with respect to many key provisions, the practical benefit of opting out becomes a complicated question that only an attorney experienced in landlord-tenant law can properly address.

  1. Additional Substantive Changes

The VRLTA has been amended annually since 2017. Some of these changes include:

  • Changes to the procedural requirements for obtaining a writ of possession;
  • Changes to the procedure for a landlord to accept late rental payments;
  • Changes to landlords’ and tenants’ respective obligations regarding mold and carbon monoxide detectors;
  • Changes to the time period within which a tenant may exercise her right of redemption;
  • Many other revisions of varying importance and technicality, some so recent that they are not effective until this July.

The VRLTA-common law dichotomy and the amendments of both statutes can create a frustrating web of regulations and rule-changes for a landlord to deal with. We are here to help. At Keithley Law, PLLC, we have experienced landlord-tenant attorneys who know how to adapt to the constantly changing laws in this field.

Contact our legal team at Keithley Law today for your initial consultation.

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