West Virginia law specifies the rules and procedures a landlord must follow when evicting a tenant. Unless the landlord carefully follows all of these rules and procedures, the eviction might not be valid. This article provides an overview of the rules and procedures property manager and landlords must follow when evicting a tenant in West Virginia.
A landlord who wants to evict a tenant must have a good reason (legal cause) to do so. West Virginia defines legal cause as failing to pay rent, violating the lease or rental agreement, or damaging the rental unit. To evict the tenant for one of these reasons, the landlord must first terminate the tenancy. Unlike most states, the landlord in West Virginia does not need to give the tenant written notice before filing an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. As soon as the tenant fails to pay rent, violates the lease or rental agreement, or damages the rental unit, the landlord can immediately terminate the tenancy and go straight to court. (W. Va. Code § 55-3A-1 (2021).)
How to terminate a tenancy without cause in West Virginia depends on whether the rental is governed by a month-to-month rental agreement or a lease.
A landlord who wants to end a month-to-month tenancy but does not have legal cause for eviction, can give the tenant a written 30-day notice to move. This notice must inform the tenant that the landlord is terminating the tenancy and that the tenant must move out of the rental unit by the end of 30 days. If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit, then the landlord can proceed with an eviction. (W. Va. Code § 37-6-5 (2021).)
A landlord who wants to end a fixed-term lease, but does not have legal cause for eviction, must wait until the lease has ended before expecting the tenant to move. The landlord does not need to give the tenant written notice to move unless the terms of the lease specifically require it. If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit by the end of the lease term, then the landlord should not accept any further rent from the tenant and can proceed with an eviction.
Even when a landlord has a valid legal cause to evict a tenant, the tenant might still decide to fight the eviction. The tenant could have a legal defense, such as the landlord discriminating against the tenant or failing to maintain the rental unit. The tenant's decision to fight the eviction could increase the costs of the eviction lawsuit or allow the tenant more time to remain living in the rental unit.
The landlord must never force the tenant to move out of the rental unit. The only way the landlord can remove the tenant is by winning an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. Even after the landlord wins the eviction lawsuit, the only person authorized to remove the tenant is a law enforcement officer with a valid court order. West Virginia has made it illegal for the landlord to ever try to force the tenant to move, and the tenant can sue the landlord for attempting an illegal eviction.
After the tenant has been evicted, the landlord might find that the tenant has left behind personal property. If the tenant has informed the landlord in writing that the belongings are abandoned, then the landlord can dispose of the items immediately without any liability to the tenant. Otherwise, the landlord must wait for 30 days before disposing of the property. The landlord can either leave the property in the rental unit or remove it to a storage unit. If the tenant does not claim the property within 30 days (and pay for the costs of storage, if applicable), then the landlord can dispose of the property without any liability to the tenant. (W. Va. Code § 55-3A-3(h) (2021).)
Landlords must carefully follow all the rules and procedures required by West Virginia law when evicting a tenant; otherwise, the eviction might not be valid. Although these rules and procedures can seem burdensome to the landlord, they are there for a reason. Evictions often occur very quickly, and the end result is serious: the tenant has lost a place to live. The rules help ensure the eviction is justified and that the tenant has enough time to find a new home.