The Eviction Process in Virginia
Inviting strangers into your property – whether you have one or many rental properties – is an act of trust, and it requires the maintenance of a relationship built on honesty. For both tenants and landlords, any breakdown in trust or any dishonesty can lead to tension, conflict, and, eventually, an eviction.
As a landlord, you have a lease with your tenant spelling out each party’s rights and responsibilities. When your tenant violates the lease, you may be able to remove them from your property through the eviction process. However, eviction is a legal process. It is risky for landlords to try to navigate themselves. The eviction itself, or legal removal of a tenant from a rental property, is actually the last step of this process. There are many other steps that must occur first before the eviction can begin.
No landlords like having to evict tenants, but sometimes it can be unavoidable. If such circumstances arise, landlords must be very careful to follow the laws and procedures for evictions laid out in Virginia law.
When Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant?
Some landlords may assume that, because they own their rental property, they can simply evict their tenant at any point. However, your lease and Virginia law will dictate the circumstances when an eviction can occur. The two most common reasons for eviction are failure to pay rent and violation of terms contained in the lease. The lease document is a legal contract between a landlord and a tenant. The great thing about leases is that, as a landlord, you can create a lease that is tailored to protect your property and your rights. It’s important to create a lease that is tailored to your specific needs and priorities, rather than simply downloading a form lease. A lease created just for you can specify in writing what actions/behaviors would qualify as a violation of the lease. An experienced Virginia landlord-tenant attorney can help you recreate a stronger lease to use with future tenants that is in compliance with Virginia law.
Overview of the Legal Process of Eviction
It is important for every landlord to recognize that evictions are a formal, legal process. It is illegal to “informally” evict a tenant by simply kicking them out without undergoing the eviction process. This also means that landlords cannot “constructively evict” a tenant by making the property uninhabitable (for example, cutting off utilities, failing to make major repairs, etc.) or lock tenants out in an effort to force them to vacate. Some landlords ignore the law and try to force out an unruly tenant. When that happens, it can be the landlord who ends up being penalized.
To comply with Virginia law’s eviction process, each of the following steps must occur:
Step 1: Provide written notice to the tenant of lease violation/failure to pay in compliance with Virginia law
Step 2: File Unlawful Detainer Summons and related documents in court
Step 3: Court dates for judgment or to set a trial date
Step 4: Court issues a Writ of Possession
Step 5: Actual eviction executed by the Sheriff’s Department
Step 1: Providing Written Notice of Lease Violation
The first step in the eviction process is to give the tenant written notice of their failure to pay (or of another lease violation). Depending on the reason for the eviction, a landlord will give written notice of the violation and give the tenant a short period of time to remedy the violation. This notice is a legal document, so it must be properly worded and then served upon the tenant.
Step 2: Filing a Summons of Unlawful Detainer in Court
After the statutory notice period has passed, if the tenant has still not paid the outstanding rent owed or remedied any other lease violation, a landlord is entitled to take further legal action. The next step in the process is to file an Unlawful Detainer Summons in court. This Summons both creates a case in the appropriate jurisdiction’s court record and requires the tenant to come to court to either admit the lease violation or deny fault. If the tenant admits their fault, the landlord can ask the court to proceed to the next step in the eviction process. If the tenant denies wrongdoing, however, the matter will be set for trial. A trial requires the landlord or their agent to come to court with their attorney to testify.
Step 3: Trial and Step 4: Authorizing the Eviction
When eviction cases go to trial, the court will determine whether the landlord can evict their tenant. At trial, the landlord must prove they gave their tenant written notice of the lease violation. They also have to prove that the tenant did in fact violate the lease in some manner. If the court decides in the landlord’s favor, the landlord must request that the court authorize eviction proceedings, and then the Sheriff’s Department will schedule the eviction.
Step 5: Actual Eviction
After the court has authorized the eviction, the time comes for actual removal of the tenant. The Sheriff’s Department oversees the eviction and will give the tenants notice before the removal. Once evicted, the tenant will typically have a 24-hour period to access the house during the day to remove their belongings.
How Can a Lawyer Help a Landlord During Eviction?
If you are considering evicting a tenant, contact Wakefield Law, PLLC today. Your lawyer can help ensure you are compliant with the legal process and save the time and money associated with failing to follow proper procedure. The eviction process can be complicated and delicate, and a lawyer will be able to ensure an eviction is completed quickly and legally. In some cases, a tenant will not only deny wrongdoing in court but will also raise their own defense by alleging the landlord tried to unlawfully evict them by failing to provide proper notice or other violation of the lease. An attorney can address these defenses in court. If you are a landlord having trouble with a tenant, or if you would like to have your lease reviewed to ensure it protects you against a problem tenant, call the experienced attorneys at Wakefield Law at (703) 771-9740 to learn more.