Has your tenant stopped paying rent or violated some other lease provision? As a landlord, you have remedies but must carefully follow the proper legal procedure against your tenant. This post will explain Virginia’s Unlawful Detainer process, which allows landlords to enforce lease terms against non-compliant tenants.
If your tenant has violated the lease, there are several notices you must provide to the tenant before eviction. In cases of failure to pay rent, you must give the tenant a 5-day notice to pay or quit. For most other lease violations, Virginia requires a 30-day notice with 21 days to remedy the violation, if possible. In addition, a landlord can seek immediate possession of the premises if the tenant is engaged in criminal acts.
Summons for Unlawful Detainer
Once the required notice period ends, you can begin the court process by filing a civil claim for eviction, also known as a Summons for Unlawful Detainer. You, or your attorney, will file this claim in the General District Court of the county where the property is located. In the claim, you can request possession of the premises and any unpaid balance the tenant owes you. An officer of the court will then attempt to serve the tenant with a summons, notifying them of the initial court date. This process in the General District Court is usually straightforward and quick. However, if you fail to follow the procedure carefully, you will risk having your case thrown out of court.
Landlords Cannot Use Self-Help
Under Virginia law, a landlord cannot use self-help to evict a tenant. Removing or excluding the tenant from the premises, interrupting an essential service to the tenant, or any other act making the premises unsafe for habitation is considered self-help. This means a landlord cannot change locks to exclude a tenant or remove a tenant’s possessions from the premises. Any such action will harm your case against the tenant.
The Court Process
Once the tenant has notice of the Unlawful Detainer action, they may admit or deny the allegations in your claim. If, on the other hand, your tenant does not appear at the initial return date, the judge may enter a default judgment against the tenant. In this case, you can recover possession and monetary damages, including unpaid rent, court costs, and attorneys’ fees, if provided under the lease.
If the tenant appears and admits the allegations, the court will enter a judgment for possession, rent, and fees. Lastly, if the tenant denies the allegations, the case will progress to a trial. At the trial, the court will hear evidence of your claims and decide whether you are entitled to recover possession of the premises.
If you are a landlord, and your tenant is not complying with the terms of their lease, you have rights under the law. The attorneys at Mahdavi, Bacon, Halfhill & Young, PLLC can help you with your Unlawful Detainer process, or any other tenant issues you may have.
Contact our office to schedule an initial consultation today.