2019 Amendments to the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act benefit Virginia Renters

By Spring 2020 M-VETS Student-Advisor Michelle Yearick

The Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act (“VRLTA”), now codified in the Virginia Code at § 55.1-1200 through § 55.1-1262, has established the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants in Virginia since its enactment in 1974.[1] The VRLTA applies to all jurisdictions in the Commonwealth of Virginia and cannot be modified except by the General Assembly.[2] The VRLTA applies to “all single-family and multifamily dwelling units and multifamily dwelling units located in the Commonwealth”.[3] The General Assembly enacted several tenant-friendly provisions in 2019 that became effective on October 1, 2019. Some of these changes are detailed below.

Written Lease Required: Under § 55.1-1204(B), a landlord is required to offer a written rental agreement “containing the terms governing the rental of the dwelling unit and setting forth the terms and conditions of the landlord tenant relationship.” If a landlord does not provide a written rental agreement, several default provisions will apply to the lease.[4] The VRLTA will serve as the default law governing the lease, the lease will last 12 months, rent is an as-agreed amount or shall be fair market rent, rent is due on the first day of the month and not later than the fifth, any rent paid after the 5th may be subject to a late charge, and a security deposit cannot exceed two months of rent.[5]

Attorney’s Fees: A tenant who succeeds in an assertion claim is now entitled to reasonable costs and fees. Section 55.1-1244(G) now allows for a tenant to recover reasonable costs, court costs, and attorney’s fees for successful tenants in their assertion claim. Previously, a tenant could not recover any reasonable costs or attorney’s fees for an assertion claim.

Unlawful Detainer: There are new statutory protections for tenants who have been served an unlawful detainer (eviction notice). Section 8.01-126 regarding unlawful detainer (eviction) actions has been amended and now requires that the landlord admit a proper eviction notice into evidence before an order of possession can be entered.[6] Additionally, the law now requires the initial hearing to be held within 30 days.[7] The law allows a landlord to amend the amounts owed up to the final disposition of the pending unlawful detainer, but if a landlord fails to request an amendment, he or she is barred from filing an additional summons for the additional amounts if it could have been amended and was not.[8] If an order of eviction is issued, it is only valid for 180 days after which, the landlord will need to re-file.[9]

Right of Redemption: The right of redemption under the VRLTA allows a tenant to redeem tenancy by paying all amounts due. The VRLTA amendments extend the amount of time given to exercise the right of redemption. The previous version of the statute allowed a right of redemption up to the initial return hearing.[10] Under the new amendments, a tenant now has a right of redemption up to two days before the scheduled date of eviction.[11] So long as a tenant pays current rent, damages, late charges, costs of court, any civil recovery, attorney fees, and sheriff fees two business days prior to the eviction, the unlawful detainer action will be dismissed.[12]

This brief summary highlights some of the most tenant-friendly provisions in the new amendments to the VRLTA. These amendments reflect further protections for tenants by requiring written leases and disclosures prior to entering a rental agreement and extending protections for tenant’s who have been served with an unlawful detainer.

[1] The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act Handbook p. 3.

[2] Va. Code § 55.1-1201(A).

[3] Va. Code § 55.1-1201(B).

[4] Va. Code § 55.1-1204(C).

[5] Va. Code § 55.1-1204(C)(1)-(6).

[6] Va. Code § 8.01-126((D)(2)(a).

[7] Va. Code § 8.01-126(B).

[8] Va. Code § 8.01-126(D)(2)(b).

[9] Va. Code § 8.01-470.

[10] Va. Code §55-248.34.1(D).

[11] Va. Code § 55.1-1250(D).

[12] Id.