Both landlords and tenants should be able to deal with many legal questions and problems without a lawyer, once they understand the basics of state law. This overview of key landlord-tenant laws in Virginia will get you started.
Under Virginia law, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants (usually in the lease or rental agreement), such as a move-in checklist that details the condition of the premises, the identity of anyone authorized to act on the landlord's behalf, and information about whether there is any evidence of mold. (See Va. Code Ann. §§ 55.1-1212, 55.1-1214 to 1219, 55.1-1223 (2020).) Virginia landlords must also offer prospective tenants a statement of tenant rights and responsibilities developed by the Department of Housing and Community Development. When landlords and tenants enter into a lease or rental agreement, all parties must sign a form acknowledging that the tenant received from the landlord the statement of tenant rights and responsibilities. The landlord must provide a copy of the written rental agreement and the statement of tenant rights and responsibilities to the tenant within one month of the effective date of the agreement. A landlord cannot file or pursue a lawsuit against a tenant for a lease violation until the landlord provides these documents. (Va. Code Ann. §§ 55.1-1204 (2020).)
Virginia state law limits how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit (two months' rent or damage insurance in the same amount), when it must be returned (within 45 days after a tenant moves), and sets other restrictions on deposits. See Virginia Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines for more on the subject.
Tenants can sue landlords in small claims court for the return of their security deposit, up to a dollar amount of $5,000. Landlords defending a security deposit lawsuit should check out Virginia Landlord's Guide to Security Deposit Disputes in Small Claims Court.
State law regulates several rent-related issues, including bounced-check fees and how much time (five days in Virginia) a tenant has to pay rent or move before a landlord can file for eviction. A landlord cannot charge more than $50 as a fee for payment of rent with a bad check in Virginia. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1200 (2020).) For details, see Virginia Termination for Nonpayment of Rent and Other Rent Rules.
Tenants may exercise the right to withhold rent if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1244 (2020).) For specifics, see Virginia Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent.
State laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. For example, a landlord may give a Virginia tenant who has repeatedly violated the lease (after earlier violations were cured) an unconditional quit notice that gives the tenant 30 days to move out before the landlord can file for eviction. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1245 (2020).) See State Laws on Unconditional Quit Terminations and State Laws on Termination for Violation of Lease for details on these types of termination notices in Virginia.
Several other landlord-tenant laws in Virginia affect both property owners and renters, including:
If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as state security deposit rules, you'll find citations in many of the articles and charts included in the State Landlord-Tenant Laws section of the Nolo site. To access the statutes, visit the Virginia General Assembly's website. (Because laws change frequently, you'll always want to make sure you're familiar with the most recent updates.)
If you just want to browse through the Virginia landlord-tenant law, you can find state statutes at Va. Code Ann. §§ 55.1-1200 to 55.1-1259 (2020). You can search the table of contents for the landlord-tenant statutes. Or, if you don't know the exact statute number, you can enter a keyword that is likely to be in it, such as "nonpayment of rent."
In addition to accessing state laws via Nolo's website, Virginia statutes are available in many public libraries and in most law libraries that are open to the public (typically found in a county courthouse or at the state capitol or in a publicly-funded law school).
Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and antidiscrimination rules that affect landlords and tenants. Many municipalities have websites —just search for the name of a particular city in Virginia and then do a search when you're on the site.
State and Local Government on the Net and Municode (check out the "Code Library" menu) are good sources for finding local governments online. Also, your local public library or office of the city attorney, mayor, or city or county manager can provide information on local ordinances that affect landlords and tenants in Virginia.
While most landlords and tenants will primarily be concerned with state law in Virginia, several federal laws come into play. Congress has enacted laws, and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have adopted regulations, covering housing discrimination and landlord responsibilities to disclose environmental health hazards, such as lead-based paint.
The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. It consists of 54 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"), which is organized by subject into 50 separate titles.
Nolo's Laws and Legal Research page includes links to state and federal laws, explains how to research and understand statutes, and provides advice on finding local ordinances and court cases, including Supreme Court cases. To go further, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo (Nolo). This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use, step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.
You'll also find a wealth of information in the Landlords & Tenants and Renters' & Tenants' Rights sections of the Nolo website. Nolo books, such as Every Landlord's Legal Guide and Every Tenant's Legal Guide, are perfect resources for those looking to understand landlord-tenant law—and the practical issues of being a landlord or a tenant—in depth.