I am a New Landlord: What Do I Need to Know?
Whether you have a spare room in your home, a guest house, or have made the investment in a rental property, you are a new landlord. Congratulations! But, what’s next?
Owning a rental property can be a great investment, but being a landlord also comes with certain responsibilities. Understanding your legal rights and responsibilities will help you be a better landlord, which will also help you benefit from your investment. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do as a new landlord, but don’t despair! As you transition into this new role, there are plenty of resources available to you to ensure your success.
Landlords’ Responsibilities in the Commonwealth of Virginia
In Virginia, state law sets forth a number of responsibilities for both residential and commercial landlords. The primary responsibility for a residential landlord is to ensure the home is safe and habitable for tenants. For example, a landlord must keep his or her property in compliance with electrical, heating, and other utility codes. A landlord must also make sure the property is compliant with the fire code, which includes having working smoke detectors. Additionally, it is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the premises in good repair. In essence, these laws mean that, as a landlord, you have an ongoing responsibility to keep the property safe for your tenants. It is not enough for the property to be habitable when tenants first move in – it must stay habitable and safe.
In addition to keeping the property safe and livable, landlords must also:
Pay the property taxes
Ensure compliance with any HOA/COA regulations
Maintain property insurance
Comply with anti-discrimination laws
Observe occupancy laws
Make any required disclosures, such as disclosing the existence of lead paint or asbestos
Requiring a Security Deposit
Virginia statute also dictates how landlords handle security deposits. The law does not require landlords to take security deposits from their tenants, although it is a good idea in case the tenant damages the property. If that happens, the landlord can deduct repair costs from the security deposit. However, before doing so, landlords who require a security deposit have to comply with certain legal requirements. After receiving the agreed-upon amount (specified in the lease), landlords must put the deposit in an interest-earning account, unless this practice is specifically waived in the lease.
Many landlords are unsure of when they can deduct from the security deposit. Generally, after possession is returned to the landlord, he or she can keep part of the security deposit (or the entire amount) to pay for unpaid or late rent, for repairs related to major damage caused by the tenant, or to pay for any other charges specified in the lease. However, these deducted amounts should be recorded and provided to the tenants. Many leases require a move-out inspection of the property, which is a helpful way to determine whether major repairs are needed and whether you will need to deduct from the security deposit. Tenants have a legal right to be at the final property walk-through, so make sure to notify your tenant in writing at least five days in advance before conducting the inspection. If you need to deduct from the security deposit at any point, keep in mind that you will need to document the deductions. Most importantly, you will need to comply with the terms of your lease.
Creating the Right Lease for You
It is never too early to think about creating a lease. Even if you already have tenants in your property, take some time to consider how you may want to change your lease for future tenants. A lease is a legally enforceable contract between the landlord and the tenant and can be written to protect your interests. Making sure that you have a lease tailored to fit your needs is the best first step you can take to protect yourself, your investment, and your rights.
Your lease can include clauses that dictate the move-in process, payment of rent, dealing with damages, and more. Some common examples of lease clauses that you want to consider include:
Late rent fees
Allowing (or disallowing) pets
Scheduling inspection dates
Payment of attorney’s fees related to enforcement of the lease
Permission to access the premises with notice
Prohibiting smoking inside the apartment/house
There are numerous considerations to think through when creating your lease. An experienced landlord representation lawyer can help you draft the right lease for you.
What to Do If You Have a Problem with Your Tenants
Sometimes, conflicts between landlords and tenants arise. In many cases, these conflicts can be resolved informally between the two parties. Remember, communication goes a long way. Staying in touch with your tenants can help prevent small issues from turning into large problems. A well-drafted lease can also help preemptively address how both parties should handle any situations that may give rise to conflict. For example, your lease should describe who pays for small repairs to the property. Keep in mind that any agreements you make outside of what your lease says should be made in writing. That way, both you and tenant are on the same page about your responsibilities.
If an issue arises that is not addressed by the lease, or that you cannot resolve directly with your tenant, it may be time to consider your legal options. If your tenant fails to pay their rent or otherwise breaches the lease agreement, you do have legal recourse; however, it can be difficult to determine when to take legal action. If a problem does occur, call a Virginia landlord representation attorney for practical advice on your rights and options for resolution.
Becoming a landlord is an exciting opportunity. If you are preparing to lease out your property, now is the time to prepare for that transition. Don’t wait until a conflict arises to get clear on your rights and obligations under Virginia law. Instead, get an experienced Virginia landlord attorney on your team. Give Wakefield Law a call at 703-771-9740 to learn more about your options and obligations as a new landlord.