The eviction process in the state of Virginia is also known as an Unlawful Detainer. The process can differ from county to county, but they are more or less the same:
- Send a clear written notice
- Fill out the forms
- Serve the documents
- Attend the trial
- Wait for judgment
This article details a summary for a landlord to refer to when beginning an eviction process. Alternatively, a landlord can ask an attorney for legal help if they have any questions on landlord-tenant rights.
The first step to any eviction is providing an eviction notice. This notice is usually a form that is filled out by the landlord that details the tenant's violation and whether or not a tenant can fix the issue.
The notice period depends on the reason for eviction. This form is important because, without it, the tenants may easily win the case.
1. Failure to pay rent or nonpayment of rent
The most common reason to begin an eviction process is the failure to make a timely rent payment. A landlord can evict a tenant for failing to pay the rent due.
Rent is considered late in Virginia depending on what is stated in the lease agreement. Grace periods, rules on late fees, etc., are also addressed in this agreement.
In tenancies that do not have a written lease agreement, rent is due on the 1st day of every month. Rent is considered late if it remains unpaid on the 5th day.
Before a landlord can start with the eviction action for not paying rent, the landlord must provide a notice to the tenant called a 5-Day Notice to Pay. This written notice informs the renter that they must move out of the property or pay the rent due in 5 days to avoid eviction.
If tenants who are being evicted for failing to pay rent on time manage to pay all rental payments in full to the landlord before the five-day notice period is up, the entire eviction process stops, and they can continue staying within the rental premises.
2. Violation of the lease/rental agreement
A lease agreement can vary between tenants. Landlords and tenants are required to uphold the terms of the lease agreement at all times.
In Virginia, landlords can evict tenants for a lease violation. The landlord must give tenants a 30-Day Notice to Comply, which provides them with 21 days to fix the issue. Should the tenant be unable to resolve the issue within 21 days, the tenant has the remaining 9 days to vacate the rental property.
Lease violations include:
- Damage to the rental unit
- Smoking in non-smoking areas
- Material health/safety violations (correctable)
- Too many people are living inside the rental unit
- Housing a pet in a pet-free rental unit or rental premises, etc.
The landlord may continue filing for an eviction lawsuit if the tenant fails to resolve the issue and remains inside the rental unit after the given notice period. This only applies to curable violations.
In the case of non-curable violations, the landlord must only present a 30-Day Notice to Quit. In these cases, the tenant must vacate the property within 30 days. They are not allowed to fix their violation.
3. Conducting illegal activity
If a tenant in Virginia has engaged in illegal activity on the rental premises, the landlord is not legally obligated to give them any notice. Landlords may proceed directly to the next step in the eviction process and file an eviction.
Examples of illegal activity are, but are not limited to:
- Involvement in the creation, distribution, or consumption of a controlled substance
- Violence that threatens the health and safety of other people residing within the rental property
4. Non-renewal of lease after the end of the rental period
A Virginia eviction process does not allow a landlord to evict a tenant without good cause. As long as the tenant does not violate any rules, they can stay until their rental period ends.
However, a tenant can be evicted if they stay in the property even a day after their written lease ends (and have not arranged for a renewal).
This type of eviction notice usually only applies if the landlord wants to end the tenant's rental term. The landlord must provide a written notice. The notice must be the right one, depending on the tenancy type.
Should the tenant remain in the rental premises even after their notice period ends, the landlord may continue to file an eviction lawsuit in order to evict the tenant from the property.
Filing a Lawsuit
After the notice period has passed, the landlord may file an Unlawful Detainer in the correct circuit or general district court. Successful evictions rely on correct filings, so the landlord must file all the forms correctly.
1. Steps in filing
- Proceed to the circuit or general district court the rental property belongs to
- Fill out the forms
- Pay the filing fees. Filing costs can rise as high as $151 in Arlington Circuit Court.
It takes between 5- 30 days before a landlord can file a complaint. This depends on the notice given to the tenant.
Serving the Tenant
The Summons and Complaint must be served to the tenant. The landlord must not serve this document themselves. The document should contain information such as the date and time of the court trial.
The state of Virginia allows a professional process server, a sheriff, or individuals who are at least 18 years old and uninvolved in the case to serve the document. Anyone in the sheriff's office may also deliver the documents.
It has to be delivered at least 10 days before the eviction hearing is scheduled.
1. How to serve documents to a tenant
The summons and its corresponding documents have to be served through one of the following methods:
- Personal Service: The Summons and Complaint is served to the tenant in person.
- Substituted Service: A copy of the Summons and Complaint may be left with a family member.
- Posting & Mailing Service: A copy of the Summons and Complaint is left in a secure and visible position by the entrance to the tenant’s rented property. When used, this method must also be accompanied by mailing another copy to the tenant.
- Publishing Service: The server acquires another court order to publish the Summons and Complaint in the local newspaper.
2. After serving the Summons and Complaint
A tenant is not required to file a written answer or appearance to the court. They only have to show up to the hearing.
The Summons and Complaint must be served at least 10 days before an eviction hearing is scheduled.
Asking for Possession
1. Filing a Motion to Obtain Judgment and get a Judgment for Possession
A landlord has to provide a strong argument backed up by solid evidence against their tenant in order to win. Should the tenant fail to show up to the hearing, there is a chance that the judge rules in favor of the landlord immediately.
2. Next procedure if the tenant disagreed and filed an answer
During the court hearing, the landlord has to support their claim with evidence and show it to the judge. This includes but is not limited by the following:
- Copy of the deed and the lease/rental agreement
- Rent receipts
- Rent ledgers
- Bank statements
- Witness statements
- Photo and video documentation of the violations committed by the tenant
An eviction hearing is scheduled within 21-30 days after the landlord filed the complaint.
An eviction hearing is scheduled within 21-30 days after the landlord filed the complaint.
1. After the landlord wins the case and gets a Writ of Eviction
Once the landlord wins the case and provided the tenant does not file for an appeal or reconsideration, the court will issue a Writ of Possession—but often known as a Writ of Eviction in the state of Virginia—upon the landlord's request.
This is step 4 to an eviction lawsuit in Virginia. The Writ of Possession/Eviction is released 10 days after the landlord wins the case.
However, should a landlord fail to request for a Writ of Eviction by the end of 180 days after winning the case, they have to start the eviction process from the beginning.
The Writ of Eviction is a court order which informs the tenant that they must move out of their housing on the property or else they will be forcibly evicted.
2. Move out process
This final step in the eviction process is to move the tenant out of their housing on the property. Virginia law dictates that the Writ must be delivered to the tenant from the sheriff's office within 15-30 days upon its issuance.
Often, only the sheriff can enforce the Writ on the property. Once tenants receive the Writ, they must vacate the property within 72 hours.
Only the proper law enforcement officials, such as the sheriff, can evict the tenant from the property forcibly. It is illegal for a landlord to do a self-help eviction even if they have won the case.
The Writ of Eviction is issued 10 days after the landlord wins the case. It is delivered to the tenant 15-30 days once received by the law enforcement officials. Tenants then have 72 hours to vacate the property.
Virginia Eviction Process Timeline
Evictions in the state of Virginia take an average of 2 months to 4 months.
1. How to keep good records
If the tenant disagrees with the eviction request and they reply to the court, you must keep outstanding records of everything to provide proof to the judge and win your case. This part can make or break your entire eviction request in the event of a dispute.
You can stay organized by:
- Keeping a physical paper trail - This gets VERY hard to search through, takes up a lot of storage space, and could be damaged or lost in many scenarios.
- Scanning documents - Scan every document into your computer. A great scanner is the Brother ADS-1700W for under $200 or the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 for $400.
- Backups - Store and backup every file using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other easily searchable option.
- PMS - Use a property management software to save everything from lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and anything you can imagine. This is best used when every single document is scanned into the software.
2. Evidence to show for not paying rent
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, and they dispute that claim, you must show the judge the following:
- Your lease agreement - Showing the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment.
- All payments - Showing all previous payments, how they were typically made (check, credit card, ACH, etc.…), and what date they were usually paid on.
- Any payment returns - If their check bounced, their bank account had insufficient funds, or they did a chargeback dispute on their credit card, show this to the Judge. Also, any fees or charges that have been charged to your account can be claimed in the agreement.
- All messages - If you sent your tenant automated or manual payment reminders by text, email, letter, or mail, it’s essential to show this. While it’s usually not needed, it’s still good to show that they were aware of the situation and were given time to cure and make payment. This is why it’s always best to have everything in writing instead of any phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
3. Evidence to show for lease violations
If you are evicting the tenant for lease violations, for example, noise complaints, unauthorized pets, or property damages, it’s important to show proof from any of the following methods:
- Security Cameras - If you have a surveillance system that can show them committing the crime or lease violation, it’s safe to say you will typically win this dispute.
- Video - If you missed them in the act, the next best thing is to record a video with your phone of any damages or the lease violation.
- Pictures - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture could be worth thousands of dollars! Even if you take a video, it’s important to show the Judge any pictures too, as it will usually be more useful than any other sort of printed evidence.
- Lease Terms - Once again, show the court which term they violated in their lease agreement. Don’t worry if you don’t have every single term spelled out in your rental agreement. If the violation is bad enough, it might not be needed to have it written. As a good practice, though, start adding all of the potential reasons to evict a tenant into your agreement.
Can you kick someone out without eviction notices in Virginia?
No. Virginia landlords can be sued for forceful eviction. A tenant in Virginia can sue the landlord for actual damages and attorneys' fees as a consequence of forceful evictions.
What is a self-help eviction?
Examples of illegal “self-help” evictions include changing the locks, taking the tenant’s belongings, removing the front door, or turning off the heat or electricity, but can be a wide variety of other things. Many states specify how much money a tenant can sue for if the landlord has tried to evict the tenant through some sort of self-help measure illegally. Some state laws also provide for the tenant's court costs and attorneys' fees (if the tenant successfully sues the landlord) and/or give the tenant the right to stay in the rental unit for the time being.
What are the potential penalties for a self-help eviction?
According to Virginia Civil Code, you may be liable for the Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay.
A tenant can sue you for actual damages plus violations. Tenants may ask for an injunction prohibiting any further violation during the court action.
What other laws should I be aware of?
A landlord must be aware of an update regarding COVID-19 Eviction Policies. Due to COVID-19, there may be an eviction moratorium or the government may be offering rent relief efforts to help tenants in eviction protection.
Landlords must also check out information about laws on Security Deposits so that they understand how it can help them in case a tenant is unable to pay for rent or repairs.
A landlord may also read the Landlord and Tenant Act because it can contain helpful legal advice that may help them navigate the Virginia eviction law for a successful eviction.