No matter how well you screen your tenant through background checks and calling previous landlords, there's always a risk that she'll turn out to be a problem. Then, you may be faced with the uncomfortable task of evicting her. In Virginia, the only way to legally evict someone is by filing a lawsuit. Getting to that point is relatively straightforward, as long as you serve the proper eviction notice.
What Are the Grounds of Eviction in Virginia?
You cannot evict someone because you don't like him or another tenant has offered to pay you more rent. In Virginia, you can only evict a tenant where there's legal cause such as:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Violating the lease conditions, such as keeping a dog when pets are not permitted or sub-leasing the apartment without the landlord's consent
- Doing something illegal at the property, for example, dealing drugs or threatening other tenants at the building
If you don't have a legal cause for eviction, you must wait until the tenancy has expired before asking the tenant to leave.
When Is the Rent Late?
Most evictions occur because the tenant pays the rent late or not at all. In Virginia, rent is traditionally due on the first day of the month even if it falls on a weekend, and you are not obligated to give a tenant a grace period. This means you can start eviction proceedings as early as the second day of the month if the rent is not paid. However, the lease may specify a different date or give the tenant a few days' grace before the rent is officially past due. As a landlord, the steps you take should follow the terms of the lease agreement.
What Is an Eviction Notice in Virginia?
If you're evicting for money-related issues, you must serve a five-day "Pay or Quit" notice to start the eviction process. This notice warns the tenant that he must pay the back rent within five days or vacate the premises. If you're evicting for contractual issues and the lease violation is fixable, you must serve a 30-day "Cure or Quit" notice. This notice gives the tenant 21 days to cure the lease violation or move out within 30 days. A Cure or Quit notice is appropriate if there's minor damage to the property which the tenant could repair within three weeks, or you want the tenant to find a new home for an unauthorized pet.
Where the lease violation cannot be cured, for example, the tenant has trashed the place, you may serve a 30-day unconditional "Quit" notice. This notice gives the tenant just 30 days to pack up and leave.
How Do You Fill Out a Quit Notice?
The easiest solution is to get hold of a commercial notice form. These are readily available online. There'll be a few sections to fill out, such as:
- The name and address of the tenant
- The reason you're serving the notice, such as failure to pay the rent or a description of the lease violation
- The total amount of past-due rent and where and to whom it should be paid
- Your own name and address
- The date you served the notice
- Your signature
While not essential, it's a good idea to include a statement that any belongings left at the property by the tenant after the tenant moves out will be considered abandoned after 24 hours. This will speed things up later on.
How Do You Serve a Quit Notice?
"Serving" is the act of physically delivering the notice to the tenant. Most times when tenants challenge an eviction, it's because they haven't been properly served. Ideally, you'll hand the notice directly to the tenant. If that arrangement isn't possible, you can "nail and mail" the notice by posting the notice on the front door of the property and mailing a copy to the tenant. You then need to fill out a certificate of service that states the date and time the notice was given to the tenant.
Another option is to request a sheriff's service. With this method, you give the notice and a couple of copies to the sheriff, who will serve the notice on your behalf. Expect to pay a fee of around $10 to $20 for this service. Many landlords consider this to be a relatively small price to pay for the peace of mind that your notice has been professionally served.
Wait for the Notice to Expire
You've played your opening shot; the tenant now has the next move. He basically has three options:
- To pay up and fix the lease violation. If the tenant does the honorable thing and complies, the eviction is over. You no longer have a just cause for removing the tenant and you must allow him to continue occupying the unit in the usual way.
- To move out. Moving out terminates the lease and you are free to take possession of the property.
- To do nothing. If the tenant does nothing, your next step is to serve an eviction lawsuit with the court.
How Do You File for Unlawful Detainer in Virginia?
"Unlawful detainer" is the name for a civil claim for eviction in the state of Virginia. Filing an action is straightforward: simply take a copy of your "quit" notice and proof of service to the General District Court and ask to file a "Summons for Unlawful Detainer." There'll be some paperwork to fill out, after which the court will issue a summons and assign a date when the landlord and tenant have an opportunity to appear before the judge. It's up to you to serve the court papers on the tenant. You cannot "nail and mail" a court summons, so choose personal service or get the sheriff to serve on your behalf.
Does the Eviction Process in VA Require a Court Hearing?
A court summons is a serious document, and most tenants will leave as soon as they are served. If the tenant doesn't file a response with the court to challenge the summons or fails to show up in court, you can ask for a default judgment in your favor. Sometimes, however, a tenant will fight the eviction. For example, the tenant may claim that you failed to serve the eviction notice properly or that you discriminated against him in some way. The judge will hear the arguments and make a determination. If the judge rules in your favor, the final stage is to physically remove the tenant from the building. You must not do this yourself!
How Do You Physically Remove the Tenant?
Self-help evictions, such as changing the locks or switching off the utilities are illegal in Virginia and you could find yourself in serious trouble if you try to throw out the tenant yourself. Instead, you must present your court judgment and file a "Request for Writ of Possession in Unlawful Detainer Proceedings" with the clerk of the General District Court. The court will send the writ to the county sheriff, who sets a date for the eviction.
There are two types of eviction in Virginia – a full eviction in which the sheriff removes all the tenant's belongings, puts them out onto the street, then changes the locks. With this type of eviction, you'll be asked to hire a locksmith and a moving truck, and provide boxes and bags to pack the tenant's possessions. If it's raining and the tenant's belongings could get damaged, the sheriff may postpone the eviction.
The second option is a 24-hour lock change eviction. Here, the locks are changed with the tenant's possessions still inside. For the next 24 hours, the property essentially becomes a storage facility for the tenant's stuff. Remember the eviction notice you prepared? If you included an "abandonment" statement, you can dispose of the tenant's property at the end of the 24 hours if the tenant has not collected his possessions by then. The eviction is now done and dusted. If you didn't include the "abandonment" statement, you must give the tenant a further 10 days to claim his possessions before you can dispose of them.