“[I]t is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need … without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”
– Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Having a stable home environment is a critical human need, so it is important to understand the many rights and responsibilities that come with renting a home. This information offers a basic foundation for tenants as they navigate the joys and challenges that may arise while renting a home.
Rights and Responsibilities:
The links below provide helpful information for landlord and tenants and tips for tenants as they enter lease agreements, request repairs, and end their tenancy:
What if my landlord refuses to make required repairs?
Under the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act, landlords are required to make repairs in a timely manner. If you are having trouble getting your landlord to make needed repairs, the link below provides an online tool to assist you in completing a tenant’s assertion to be filed with the court.
Please note the following prior to completing and filing the tenant’s assertion form.
- Send the letter by first class mail (a regular stamp) to the landlord or property owner (whoever you pay rent to or is named on the lease).
- Make sure the letter outlines your repair request and gives your landlord a reasonable timeframe to make the requested repair (e.g., 21 days for non-emergency repairs and 3-5 days for emergency repairs)
- If the landlord or property owner fails to comply with your request, you should contact legal aid or an attorney for additional assistance.
What if I have challenges paying my rent?
What can I do to prevent an eviction?
Talk to your landlord and learn what your options are.
- You will need documentation of your financial situation, such as proof of unemployment benefits and/or a letter from your employer. Many landlords are working with tenants by waiving late fees, creating payment plans or allowing tenants to relocate to another unit, depending on availability, or applying security deposits to unpaid rent.
- See sample payment plan agreement (PDF).
- After you talk with your landlord or management company, you should submit a written request that asks for an installment plan, a waiver of late fees or penalties, the ability to apply your security deposit to unpaid rent, or a postponement of your rent payment. See sample documents here.
- Be sure to keep all written documentation of changes to your lease and/or rent payment amounts.
I have received a notice of late or non-payment of rent. What should I do?
First, contact your landlord immediately to try to resolve the problem. You will need to give your landlord a reasonable schedule for paying past due as well as future rent. You should consult legal counsel as soon as possible if the eviction process has been initiated by your landlord. The following links provide general information that may assist you as you attempt to avoid eviction.
If you are a tenant, your landlord must follow the legal eviction process outlined below. Under Virginia law, tenants have certain rights when they move in, while they are renting, and before they can be evicted. You are a tenant if you pay regular amounts of rent during regular time periods, such as once a month or once a week. You are a tenant if you have a written lease for a period of more than 90 days. You also are a tenant if you have lived in a hotel or motel for more than 90 days even without a lease. Tenants and landlords have legal protections under the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA). The VRLTA applies to most residential rental properties in Virginia.
This is general information, not legal advice about a specific case. If you have questions or want advice about your case, please contact legal aid (1-866-LEGL-AID) or get advice from the Eviction Legal Helpline (1-833-NoEvict).
Always, appear in court unless the landlord cancels the summons in writing. You will likely lose your case if you do not go to court on the date on the unlawful detainer. You are not required to have an attorney, but the landlord will almost always have an attorney in court. Please contact the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society to determine if you are eligible for its services. If your income exceeds program limits, contact an attorney for legal guidance or representation. Below are general contact information and resource links where you may get help:
- Civil legal aid programs – 866-LEGLAID
- Eviction legal help line – 833-NOEVICT
- On-line pro bono question & answer website
- Legal information – VaLegalAid.org
- Pre-recorded legal information (available before 9 a.m., after 5 p.m., & all day on weekends & legal holidays) – 866-534-5243
- VA Judicial System Self-Help website – http://selfhelp.vacourts.gov
- VA Law Help 2 Go – mobile-friendly platform with legal information in video format – valawhelp2go.org or 703-293-5544