Legal FAQs for Renters in Virginia

This page has local legal information on residential (not commercial) renters’ issues. It is not legal advice, and you should check with your local legal aid and courts for current information.

This page was last updated on Nov 8th, 2022. It was reviewed by our volunteer attorney experts.

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Emergency Protections during COVID

Emergency Protections during COVID

Are there any special protections for Virginia renters during the COVID-19 emergency?

Virginia renters have special protection against evictions until June 30, 2022.

Landlords cannot evict tenants for non-payment of rent (because of COVID hardships) unless they follow these rules:

  1. The landlord must give the renter a 14-day notice that informs the renter about the Rent Relief Program.
  2. The landlord must apply for the rent help through the RRP during this 14-day period (unless the tenant pays the rent, enters a payment plan, or already applied for RRP).
  3. They must comply with the RRP process, by giving all information and documents.

Landlords can evict tenants if they follow this process, and then

  • The RRP finds that the tenant is not eligible for rent relief, or
  • The tenant refuses to cooperate with the RRP application, or
  • The RRP doesn't approve rent payments within 45 days of a completed application, or
  • The RRP runs out of money

In these situations, the landlord may evict the renter.

If your landlord owns more than 4 properties, they cannot evict a tenant without first offering them a payment plan of up to 6 months. This is only if the tenant has given them a signed declaration that they have a COVID-19 hardship.

Earlier protections

Earlier, The Supreme Court of Virginia had suspended eviction court hearings through September 7th. Before that, there was a court eviction suspension in effect between March 16, 2020 and May 17, 2020.

Also, a Virginia law gives renters facing eviction a right to a 60 day continuance of their case, if they have lost income due to COVID-19. If they are sued for eviction for nonpayment of rent, renters can bring written proof of that and explain their COVID hardship to the court, in order to request the case be delayed for 60 days.

What do the protections mean for Virginia renters?

Since the eviction protections expired in Virginia:

  • Your landlord can still give you a notice to quit.
  • Your landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against you.
  • The court may allow the eviction trial to move forward.
  • The court can still issue a new order, judgment, or writ of eviction against you.
  • Law enforcement can enforce an existing eviction order against you, to remove you from your home.

If your landlord is trying to evict you for nonpayment of rent, reach out for legal help. You have special rules in Virginia that limit how landlords can evict people who have had COVID-19 hardships.

Do I still have to pay rent during the emergency in Virginia?

Yes, Virginia renters still need to pay rent during the emergency.

You may have been protected by emergency bans on eviction, but now you can be sued for eviction and you still owe all your rent.

Also check with your local city or county government to see if they give renters any additional protections if they are struggling to pay rent during the emergency.

If you cannot pay rent, take steps to protect yourself:

  • See if you qualify for Virginia requirements for payment plans. Landlords that own more than 4 properties must offer their tenants a 6-month payment plan before they can evict them. Read more here.
  • Apply for rental assistance: If you need financial help for housing costs like rent or utilities, you may be able to get help.
  • Communicate with your landlord: Send a written letter or email to your landlord as soon as possible. Explain why you cannot pay the rent because of COVID-19 impact. You can also try to negotiate with your landlord to make a payment plan or get a temporary rent reduction. Get help drafting a letter to your landlord here. You can also use this letter-writing tool here.
  • Get written records of all communication: Keep copies of any letter or email you send, and any responses from the landlord. Keep receipts for any payments you make. If you make a payment plan or rent agreement, make sure to get it in writing.
  • Keep proof of COVID-19's impact on you: Collect documents about your COVID-19-related employment problems, health care issues, or other issues that affect your ability to pay rent. This includes letters from your employer, doctor, insurance provider, child care provider, schools, etc.
Can my landlord evict me during the emergency in Virginia?

Virginia landlords can sue tenants for eviction since the statewide protections ended. If your landlord owns more than 4 properties, they must offer you a 6-month payment plan before they can try to evict you.

Also, if your landlord is trying to evict you for nonpayment of rent, you may have extra protections. Your landlord must follow rules about applying for rent help through the Rent Relief Program before they can sue you for eviction.

You may be eligible for a 60-day continuance (delay) in your eviction case, if you have suffered a loss of income due to COVID-19. You must request this continuance from the court. Find legal help to request this 60-day continuance.

Some local Virginia city or county governments may have suspended eviction enforcements. Be sure to check if your local government has any special rules to protect you.

If you receive a notice to quit from your landlord, or an eviction lawsuit, reach out for legal help.

Can my utilities be shut off during the emergency in Virginia?

Virginia renters' utilities cannot be shut off during the emergency period, through at least October 14, 2020.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission ordered that all utility companies must continue services for residents during the emergency period. No customer should have home utilities shut off during the emergency, based on an inability to pay.

Renters must still pay their utility bills. If you need financial assistance for utility costs, you may be able to get help.

Landlords are never allowed to shut off a renter's utilities in an attempt to force the renter out. This is illegal. Reach out to a lawyer for help if this happens to you.

What if I need repairs?

Tell your landlord in writing about any repairs needed, particularly if they affect your health and safety.

The emergency may delay your landlord’s ability to make repairs, but if they are urgent you should call your landlord to make the repairs as soon as possible.

Emergency repairs could be for problems with:

  • Running water or hot water
  • Heat or air conditioning
  • Stove, refrigerator, or oven
  • Electricity
  • Bathroom use
  • Missing doors, locks, or windows
  • Pests

If your landlord doesn't make the repairs promptly, send them a written letter or email about the need for emergency repairs (and keep a copy of this communication).

Reach out for legal help for additional guidance.

Can I break my lease?

You may be able to break your lease if you can come to an agreement with your landlord.

Your lease is still valid despite the emergency period.

However, you can talk to your landlord to see if they will agree to let you leave early. If they agree, be sure to get the agreement in writing.

Also, you can review your lease. It may have a part that lets you end the lease early in times of financial difficulty. If your lease has this kind of part, you might be able to end the lease early (in some cases penalty-free).

Find legal help to get advice for your situation.

What do I do if my landlord tries to evict me in Virginia?

Contact a legal help organization to help defend yourself.

It is illegal for your landlord to evict you without first going to court and getting an eviction order. To remove you from your home, a landlord must take you to court by filing an eviction lawsuit, win the case, and getting an eviction order from the court.

Legal aid groups might be able to provide you with full representation, or other legal organizations can give you information or brief advice.

Find legal help to protect your rights.

Are eviction cases still proceeding through Virginia courts?

After September 7, 2020 eviction cases have resumed in Virginia courts.

Earlier, the courts had stopped hearing cases on March 16, 2020 through September 7, 2020.

Check with the Virginia Courts for any updates.

Did I have eviction protections under the CARES Act?

Renters in 3 categories have special national protections against being evicted during the Emergency Period of March 27, 2020 to July 24 or 25, 2020. These national protections add onto any state and local protections you have.

Do you fit in any of these 3 categories?

Your home’s owner has a federally backed mortgage loan or other guarantee (like through Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae). Search if your home is covered.
You pay rent through a federal assistance program like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, Rural Development Voucher, or other 'covered housing' program.
You live in Public Housing, where the government is your landlord.

If you are a renter in one of these 3 categories, the federal CARES Act section 4024 gives you these protections. (Remember, these protections add onto any state and local protections you have)

  • Your landlord cannot file a new eviction lawsuit against you for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period. They can still evict you for other behavior, like drug abuse, other criminal activities, or other lease violations.
  • Your landlord cannot charge you new fees or penalties for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period.
  • After the Emergency Period ends, your landlord may not be able to evict you immediately.(Different states interpret the protections ending on July 24 or 25. Check with local lawyers to see about your state). If you have not paid your rent in full during the Emergency Period, your landlord must wait until the period ends before giving you a notice to vacate. For example, they may give you a notice on July 26, and you must be allowed until at least August 25 to leave the property.

For more help on these national protections, reach out for legal and financial help here. Also, use this tool to write a letter to your landlord if you are having issues with rent or eviction.

Received a Warning Notice about Eviction?

Received a Warning Notice about Eviction?

My landlord gave me a notice to "pay or quit" my rental home in Virginia. What should I do?

You do not have to leave your home yet.

In Virginia, your landlord must give you an official notice that they may bring you to court to evict you for not paying your rent (or other reasons). The notice should give you time to either pay your rent, to get rent relief discussed below, or prepare defenses against eviction.

This official notice must follow some rules to be valid. If it doesn't follow these rules, then you can challenge it and stop an eviction.

These are Virginia’s requirements for an eviction notice:

  1. The notice must be written down.
  2. It must explain why you may be evicted -- whether it is for non-payment of rent, a lease violation, or other reason. If for nonpayment of rent, the notice must be for “the precise sum due.”
  3. Landlords may have the tenant served in person, use first class mail, or use certified mail with a return receipt requested to act as proof of service.
  4. Landlords should make a copy of their proof of service (be it a copy of the first class mail letter, a return receipt from the mail or a copy of a completed Certificate of Service) for their records.
  5. The eviction notice should include the date of creation, the name of the tenant(s) who signed the rental agreement or lease agreement, and the address of the rental property.
  6. The notice should also include the printed name and contact information (including the phone number) of the landlord or their authorized agent.

As of November 18, 2020, Virginia has new eviction protections for tenants behind on rent. These are discussed in some of the sections below.

Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't correct, or if you need assistance in defending yourself against the eviction.

Find local legal help in Virginia here.

What if the landlord has just told me, face-to-face or over the phone, that I need to leave my home in Virginia?

A verbal conversation doesn't count as an "eviction notice". To be legal, the notice must be written down and given to you in the correct way.

Reach out for legal help if your landlord is trying to make you leave without going through the court process. This is illegal and a lawyer may be able to help you protect yourself.

Find local legal help in Virginia here.

Do I have to leave my home by the time of the eviction notice's expiration date in Virginia?

No, you do not have to leave (or 'quit') your home by the date listed on the eviction notice.

You do not have to leave your home until you have been brought to court, and a judge has ordered that your landlord can have possession. Even after this, your landlord must have the court issue a Writ of Eviction and have that served on you by the Sheriff. Only the Sheriff can make you leave.

After the date on the eviction notice passes and your landlord has followed all of the new eviction protections for tenants behind on rent, then your landlord may file an eviction lawsuit in court against you. You will be able to go to court and present defenses to protect yourself.

Find local legal help in Virginia here.

My eviction notice says that I will be evicted unless I pay back-rent I owe. What if I can't afford to pay it?

Virginia has new eviction protections for tenants behind on rent.

Through June 30, 2022 all landlords seeking eviction due to unpaid rent during the COVID period must first must give tenants 14-day nonpayment of rent notices. These must include information about Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP or “rent relief”). These landlords may not evict due to unpaid rent unless the landlord applies for RRP help, and follows all the requirements of the RRP proces.

Larger landlords owning five or more rental units have an extra rule to follow. They must offer their tenants a payment plan to bring the account to zero balance within six months, or the remaining term of the lease, whichever is less. The payment plan may not include late fees – only rent. To get a payment plan, a tenant must have had reduced income or increased expenses due to COVID-19.

These landlords may not evict unless the tenant refuses to enter a payment plan or enters one and fails to make a payment within 14 days of the due date. Even then, a landlord must send another 14-day notice about the missed payment before filing an eviction lawsuit.

Most importantly, you can do both: apply for rent relief and enter a payment plan.

Starting January 1, 2021, all landlords seeking eviction due to unpaid rent will have an additional requirement. During the 14-day nonpayment notice period, these landlords must apply for rent relief on behalf of the tenant, unless the tenant already has applied. These landlords may not evict unless rent relief is denied for one of these reasons:

• The tenant refuses to cooperate with or apply for rent relief.

• The tenant is denied rent relief.

• Rent relief has run out of money.

• Rent relief is not approved within 45 days after submission of the application.

To get rent relief, a tenant must have a valid lease in their name and reduced income due to COVID-19. Household income must be at or below 80% of area median income. Rent must be at or below 150% of fair market (voucher) rent. Rent relief can pay 100% of current rent and 100% of past due rent from April 1, 2020 to the present.

Starting December 15, rent relief will be streamlined. All tenant applications will be handled by the RRP Support Center with 80 bilingual phone lines through a centralized statewide number of 703-962-1884.

You can apply online here.

You can also find local financial help in Virginia here.

How long do I have after I receive an eviction notice to pay back the rent to stop the eviction in Virginia?

In Virginia, you have a minimum of 14 days between your landlord giving you a notice and them filing a lawsuit against you in court to evict you.

The notice should tell you how many days the landlord is giving you. If they are giving you less than fourteen days, then you may be able to challenge it as illegal.

The notice also must follow Virginia’s new eviction protections for tenants behind on rent discussed above. If not, then you may be able to challenge it as illegal

Tenants have two more chances to “pay and stay.” If an eviction lawsuit is filed and you pay to zero balance on or before the court date, the lawsuit must be dismissed. This is called a “redemption.” If an eviction lawsuit orders that your landlord can have possession and you pay to zero balance at least two business days before a Sheriff’s eviction, the eviction must be cancelled. This is called an “extended redemption.” You may do a redemption or an extended redemption only once in any 12 month period of time.

Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't giving you the required time to make your payment or does not follow the rules discussed above.

Find local legal help in Virginia here.

Facing an Eviction Lawsuit?

Facing an Eviction Lawsuit?

My landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against me in court in Virginia. What should I do?

You should make sure that the landlord properly 'served' you with the lawsuit. If they didn't give it to you in the correct way, you can challenge the eviction lawsuit. In Virginia, a landlord must follow certain rules to let you know about the lawsuit:

1. Only certain people can give you the lawsuit's Summons for Unlawful Detainer. The documents must be served on the tenant by a sheriff, professional process server, or any third party over the age of 18, at least 5 days prior to the hearing.

2. The Summons for Unlawful Detainer may be served via one of the following methods:

  • Giving a copy to the tenant in person
  • Leaving a copy with the tenant’s family member
  • By posting a copy at the rental unit AND mailing a copy to the tenant, or
  • By publication (court-order only)

You should also reach out to local lawyers who can help you prepare for your court hearing so you can protect yourself against the eviction.

Find local legal help in Virginia here.

Do I have to do anything after I get an eviction Summons and Complaint in Virginia?

In Virginia, you are required to respond to the eviction lawsuit, if you want to avoid the eviction. This means going to court at the date and time for the hearing before a judge.

After the first court hearing, you might be required to file paperwork, such as an answer, with the court. An answer is a document that allows you to state the reasons why you should not be evicted. This is where you need to put any defenses to the eviction, such as the landlord’s use of “self-help” eviction procedures to force you out of the rental unit, or a notice that does not follow the new eviction protections for tenants behind on rent.

You will have an eviction hearing automatically scheduled at court. You must appear there if you want to defend yourself against the eviction. If you do not attend the hearing, it is likely the judge will automatically rule in the landlord’s favor.

Reach out to legal help to learn what your rights and defenses are in your eviction case. These organizations can help you deal with this lawsuit.

Find local legal help in Virginia here.

Can I settle my eviction case without going to court in Virginia?

You can come to an agreement with your landlord, but you should still go to court to make sure your case is closed.

You can work with your landlord to work out an agreement before the date of the court hearing. This might be a payment plan or other agreement on what needs to happen for you to stay in your home. As discussed above, under the new eviction protections for tenants behind on rent, larger landlords owning five or more units must offer you a payment plan.

Be sure to get this agreement in writing, so that you can prove it exists and that your landlord follows through on it.

Also, you should still go to court for your hearing date, to make sure the court knows about the agreement and closes the lawsuit. If you do not go to court, the lawsuit might still continue and the judge might rule that the landlord can remove you. Go to court yourself to make sure this doesn't happen.

You can reach out for legal help to get assistance in negotiating an agreement with your landlord, and making sure this agreement is being followed.

Find local legal help in Virginia here.

Behind on Rent?

Behind on Rent?

Who can help me with rent that I owe?

If you are behind on rent, you can get help from your local Rental Assistance program. This is a government service to help people who owe rent or utility bills.

Especially if you are behind on rent because of COVID-19 hardships, your local Rental Assistance (or Rent Relief) program can help you.

Find your local Rental Assistance program at your Get Help page here.

Am I eligible for rent relief?

Local governments set the rules about who is eligible for rent relief. Most programs focus on people who have suffered COVID-19 hardships.

You can talk to your local Rental Assistance program to learn their eligibility rules.

You may have to show your household income, or if you are on other benefits programs like SNAP.

You may also have to show that you are at risk of homelessness or eviction if you don't get rental assistance.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program to see if you are eligible.

Does immigration status matter for rent relief?

Many local Rental Assistance programs are open to everyone, regardless of immigration status. Many programs do not even ask about immigration status.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program to make sure about eligibility rules and immigration.

Can a landlord apply for their renter, to get rental assistance?

Most Rental Assistance programs let landlords apply.

Either a renter or a landlord can start the application.

The landlord will have to fill in as much information they have about the amount of money needed, and the eligibility for the program. The tenant may have to fill in the rest of the information.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program about the steps to follow to apply for rent relief.

Get Help From Local Groups

State information is taken from these sources:Virg. Supreme Court extension orderVirg. utility shutoff moratoriumVirg. Supreme Court orderVirginia Poverty Law CenterPrinceton Eviction Lab's COVID Policy ScorecardsColumbia Law School COVID-19 Eviction Moratoria analysisEnergy and Policy Institute Utility Disconnect TrackerVirg. supreme court extension order 06/08

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