Legal FAQs for Renters in
Table of Contents
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Do I have housing protections because of COVID-19?
My landlord gave me an eviction notice
What can I do?
I've been sued in court for eviction
What can I do?
How can I get rent help?
Learn about Rent Assistance programs to help with housing costs
Do I have housing protections because of COVID-19?
- Are there any special protections for Virginia renters during the COVID-19 emergency?
The national CDC eviction moratorium ended on August 26, 2021. Please reach out to legal services if you are worried about eviction.
Landlords cannot evict renters who had COVID-19 hardships, unless they follow specific rules:
1. They must give the renter a 14-day notice that informs the renter about the Rent Relief Program.
2. They must apply for the rent help through the RRP during this 14-day period (unless the tenant pays the rent, entered a payment plan, or already applied for RRP.
3. They must comply with the RRP process, by giving all information and documents.
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, 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.
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?
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.
- Are you eligible for eviction protections under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
What is the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
The CDC Eviction Moratorium orders that renters should be protected from eviction if they are unable to pay their rent due to hardships like job loss, income loss, or medical expenses. This protection lasts from September 4, 2020 through August 26, 2021.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium is not automatic protection against eviction. Renters need to fill in a Declaration document and give it to their landlord to get the protection.
Landlords may still try to file an eviction lawsuit against renters, but renters can use the moratorium to defend themselves in court.
Do you qualify for protection under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
The CDC Eviction Moratorium applies to people who:
- Live in a county with High or Substantial COVID rates. Find your county at the CDC tracker map (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view). If your county has been in the Moderate or Low category for 14 consecutive days, then the Moratorium does not apply to you.
- Rent a home in the United States; AND
- Make less than $99,000 (or $198,000 if you file a joint tax return); AND
- Are facing eviction based on nonpayment of rent (not for other problems, like lease violations or criminal activity); AND
- Can show they’re unable to pay rent because they’ve had a financial hardship, like losing a job, decrease in income, or medical bills; AND
- Can show that they’ve been trying their hardest to pay their rent and find any rental assistance; AND
- Can show that they’re at risk of homelessness if they were to be evicted.
If you live in a state, county, or city that has an eviction moratorium, the CDC Eviction Moratorium doesn’t replace this local one. It adds on top of your local protections.
What does the CDC Eviction Moratorium get you?
The CDC Eviction moratorium can stop an eviction proceeding against you. It could stop your landlord from removing you from your home, or from a court giving your landlord an eviction order through August 26, 2021.
- If your landlord has already started an eviction lawsuit against you, you can use the CDC Eviction Moratorium as a defense in court.
- You can use the Declaration form to tell your landlord that you are protected from eviction, and to ask the court to stop the eviction.
- You must follow the process below to be protected by the CDC Eviction Moratorium.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium does NOT get you rent relief:
- Even if you fill in the Declaration, this does not cancel rent that you owe, or stop rent or late fees from building up.
- After the CDC Moratorium expires on August 26, 2021, you may be evicted for the rent that you owe.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium may NOT stop a landlord from suing you:
- Even after you fill in the Declaration and send it to your landlord, they might still file an eviction lawsuit against you.
- You can bring the Declaration to the court eviction hearing, to ask the court to stop the eviction.
- Call a local lawyer for help if your landlord sues you for eviction.
How do you use the CDC Eviction Moratorium to protect yourself?
To secure CDC Eviction Moratorium protection, follow these steps:
- Apply for rental assistance. Look for any rental and utility assistance in your area, and submit applications to these programs. Find local assistance programs here.
- Fill out Declarations. You and every adult in the household need to fill out a Declaration about your financial hardships and your attempts to get assistance. In the Declaration, you must say that you are telling the truth and that you may face legal consequences if you are lying. You can use this guide for help with the Declaration.
- Send the Declarations to your landlord, and also tell the landlord that you will do your best to pay when you can. Keep a copy of the Declarations, as well as any receipt or documentation that you have sent it to your landlord (like email receipt or screenshots of the message). These can be useful evidence that you followed the process correctly.
- Protections through August 26th. After you send this, your landlord cannot remove you from your home for nonpayment of rent through August 26, 2021. They are also never allowed to harass or intimidate you, or force you to leave the home without a court order.
- If your landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against you, you can bring your Declarations to the court to ask them to stop the lawsuit. Contact a legal aid lawyer to help you with the lawsuit. Please note: Your landlord can still evict you for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, like for engaging in criminal activity in the home, violating building codes or health ordinances, or threatening the health and safety of other residents.
- You will continue to owe your rent. Try to make a plan about how you will take care of all the rent you owe. At the end of the Eviction Moratorium protections on August 26, 2021, you will no longer be protected from being evicted.
- Make sure you know your lease and its terms. Some landlords may try to evict you based on violations of the terms in your lease. If you know your lease, you can protect yourself by making sure you do not break any of its terms.
If your landlord is trying to evict you, you should contact a legal aid attorney who helps with evictions. The CDC Eviction Moratorium might give you protections that lawyers can help you with.
What if I need repairs?
Can I break my lease?
What do I do if my landlord tries to evict me in Virginia?
Are eviction cases still proceeding through Virginia courts?
My landlord gave me an eviction notice
- 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:
- The notice must be written down.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?
How long do I have after I receive an eviction notice to pay back the rent to stop the eviction in Virginia?
I've been sued in court for eviction
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
How can I get rent help?
- 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.
- 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.
Did I have eviction protections under the CARES Act?
Can a landlord apply for their renter, to get rental assistance?
Its 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