No matter what your lease says or what your landlord tells you, you cannot be evicted without a court order. Even then, your landlord must go through the court process before you can be forced to move. Your landlord is not allowed to force you out by taking such measures as changing the locks or cutting off your power.
If your landlord doesn’t want to renew your lease or wants to change the lease terms (like your monthly rent), they must provide you with advance notice. The amount of notice depends on your lease. Unless the lease says otherwise, then for a month-to-month lease, they have to give you notice 30 days before the next time rent is due. If it is a week-to-week lease, it’s 7 days before the next time rent is due. They don’t have to provide a reason for the cancellation or change.
If your original lease period ends and your landlord continues to accept rent payments, you may have automatically entered into a month-to-month lease. You or your landlord can cancel a month-to-month lease by giving notice at at least 30 days before your next rent payment is due. If you live in a mobile home park, your lease will automatically renew for a year at the end of a one-year lease.
If you wish to break your lease, you must agree with your landlord, in writing, to do so. Make sure you read your lease and understand any penalties your landlord may charge for ending the lease early.
I have a new landlord for the same home.
If your landlord sells the property in the middle of your lease term, the lease is still valid and the new owner must respect it.
If your landlord has been foreclosed on, the new owner must honor any existing lease. They cannot evict you if you have more than 90 days left on your lease, unless they plan to live there themselves. In that case, they must give you 90-days written notice. The “90-Day Rule” also applies if you have less than 90 days left on your lease.
If a home you used to own was sold at foreclosure, you become a tenant “at sufferance.” The new owner can offer you a lease, making you a formal tenant. If they want you out, the new owner must give you 3 days’ written notice to leave before taking any action in court to evict you. They can also sue you for fair market rent from the date of your foreclosure until you leave, as well as any damages, legal fees, and court costs.
My home had a fire or flood.
If you can’t live in your home because of a fire, flood, or some other accident, either you or your landlord can end the lease with 14-days written notice. The landlord must, however, fully refund your security deposit and any pre-paid rent.
My landlord wants to renovate my house.
If you live in a building with at least four rental units and your landlord wants you to move so that they can fix the place up, even if you have a long-term lease they can terminate it if they give you 120-days’ notice.
If you live in a mobile home park, and the landlord wants to change the use of the property, they have to give you written notice of at least 180 days. Additionally, the landlord must – within that 180-day period – give each resident $2,500 for relocation expenses. In some parts of Northern Virginia, it’s $3,500. Relocation expenses are subject to a written agreement between you and the landlord that you will remove your mobile home from the park.
I may have violated the terms of my lease.
There are two basic types of lease violations: remediable and non-remediable.
A remediable violation is one that you can quickly fix, and your landlord must give you a chance to do so. This includes being late paying rent or having long-term guests that are not on your lease. If you’re late with your rent, the landlord must give you written notice to either pay or leave within 14 days. If you can pay in full, you get to stay. If you can’t, the landlord can begin the eviction process. If you simply leave, your landlord can sue you for the full amount that you owe.
For other remediable violations, your landlord has to give you 21-days written notice, describing the violation. If you correct the violation within the 21 days, you’re fine. If you don’t, your landlord can file for eviction 30 days after having given you written notice.
Generally, if your violation is considered “non-remediable”, your landlord must give you 30-days’ notice before terminating the lease and requiring you to move. However, if your violation is considered a criminal act or poses a threat to the health or safety of others, they can provide immediately terminate your lease and start the eviction process. They need not wait for a criminal conviction to do this.
My Landlord is Evicting Me.
Eviction is a court process. Your landlord cannot simply tell you to leave or serve you with written notice and demand you leave. They have to file an eviction lawsuit (“unlawful detainer”) and then follow court procedures.
Your landlord must first give you a written notice saying how you have violated the lease and give you time to fix the violation. The amount of time you have to fix things depends on the type of violation. If you do not fix the violation within a certain time period, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit, called an “unlawful detainer” and ask the court for an order to have you removed.
If the violation was for not paying rent, the landlord must give you 14 days to pay what you owe or leave voluntarily.
If it was some other violation that can be fixed, such as having a guest stay over too long, the landlord must give you 21 days to fix the problem.
If the violation is not remediable, the landlord only has to give you 30 days to leave the property voluntarily.
Once they’ve filed, they have to “serve” you with the lawsuit, delivering you a copy of the court paperwork (“Summons for Unlawful Detainer”). This tells you when and where you are due in court and the amount of money your landlord is seeking, including any late fees, damages, court costs, etc.
Your landlord can “serve” you by posting a notice on your door and also sending it to you via first class mail or giving it to you in person. The summons is often delivered by a Deputy Sheriff. They can give it to anyone in your household who is over 16 years of age.
When you initially sign your lease, your landlord must provide you with a written statement of tenant rights and responsibilities within one month of the effective date of the rental agreement. Your landlord cannot file or maintain any action against you for any alleged lease violation until they have provided that statement. This protection also applies to you if you are a resident of a mobile home park.
If your landlord has done these things, saying that you never got or saw your summons is not enough to protect you. The case will move forward. If the landlord has threatened to file, you should be aware that the summons might be coming and tell everyone in your home as well.
How do I get ready for my court date?
You should always prepare for your court date. You are not required to have a lawyer, but a lawyer can be a big help. Gather any evidence, such as your lease, notices from your landlord, or any communications between you and your landlord, and any witnesses that may support your case.
If your witness doesn’t want to come to court, you can ask the court to subpoena them. You have to do this at least 10 days before your court date. There is a small fee for this, but the court has something called a “Form CC-1414”. This is a “Petition for Proceeding in a Civil Case without payment of Fees or Costs”. You can also use this for other court fees that you cannot afford.
If your landlord is suing you for not paying rent, you may be able to avoid an eviction judgment by paying everything that you owe, including late fees, court costs, and attorney fees before or at your court date. This is called the “right of redemption”. You may exercise the right of redemption an unlimited number of times unless your landlord owns four or fewer rental units and has given you written notice of a limit on the number of redemptions per lease term. Your landlord must provide an explanation of the right of redemption in any termination notice you receive.
If your landlord is suing you for not paying rent and the court has entered a judgment against you, you can have one last opportunity to avoid eviction. You can pay everything you owe, including late fees, attorneys’ fees, court costs, and sheriff fees, at least 2 days before the Sheriff’s eviction. This is called the “extended right of redemption.” You may exercise the extended right of redemption an unlimited number of times unless your landlord owns four or fewer rental units and has given you written notice of a limit on the number of redemptions per lease term.
Your landlord is required to provide the exact amount needed for redemption upon your request.
If you exercise your right of redemption or extended right of redemption, then your landlord must cancel the eviction and have the judgement marked as satisfied.
If you exercise your right of redemption or your extended right of redemption and your landlord fails to cancel the eviction anyway, then that is an unlawful eviction.
What will happen if I don’t go to my hearing?
You should always go to your court date. If you don’t go to court, the court will likely enter a “default judgment” against you, meaning the landlord can move forward with the next step in the eviction process. You will not be arrested for skipping court in an eviction case.
What if I can’t go?
You can ask for a “continuance”. Call the Clerk’s Office as soon as you know that you cannot make it. Ask for the rules for that court and follow them. It’s a good idea to also write and fax a letter to the court explaining why you can’t come and need a continuance.
If you are a military servicemember on leave for active duty, you are entitled by law to a 90-day continuance of any eviction case filed against you.
What happens at court?
First – Don’t Be Late. It’s a good idea to be there at least 15 minutes before your hearing. Let the Clerk know that you’re there for your case. If you are running behind, call the court clerk to let them know you are on the way.
The judge will call you and ask whether you admit or deny what the landlord is claiming.
If you admit what the landlord is claiming, the court will enter a “judgment for possession”, meaning the landlord has legal right to the property and can move forward with the next steps in the eviction process. The court can also include money damages you owe the landlord.
If the landlord wins, they can ask the Court Clerk for a “writ of eviction” right away. The “writ” is what tells the Sheriff to schedule your actual eviction. The sheriff must wait 10 days before carrying out the eviction.
If you deny what the landlord is claiming, the judge will likely set a trial date for you.
If the judge sets the case for trial, they will ask both you and your landlord to put in writing why you feel you are right. Yours is called a “Grounds for Defense” and the landlord’s statement is a “Bill of Particulars”. This lists why they are seeking eviction and how much money they’re seeking. The judge will set a due date for these statements sometime before the trial. If you miss this due date, you can automatically lose your case, even without a trial.
Sometimes, the judge may ask you and the landlord to step outside and try to work things out.
Make sure any agreement you reach with the landlord is in writing; never agree to anything verbally or sign anything unless you are 100% certain what you are agreeing to.
Don’t leave the court before checking in with your judge to make certain that your agreement is okay with them.
When your case is heard, all witnesses are sworn in and will speak under oath.
Your landlord will go first, but you can question them (and any other witnesses).
After that, you and your witnesses will testify. Your landlord can then ask you questions.
At the end, you each can make a short closing argument, telling the judge why they should decide in your favor. After hearing everything, the judge will make a decision.
If you win, you get to stay in your home as if your case never happened. If you lose, your landlord can move forward with eviction. The losing party has 10 days to appeal the case.
What legal defenses can I use to avoid eviction?
A lawyer is in the best position to tell you what might make a good defense, and it’s a good idea to seek their advice. Some possible defenses include:
The landlord didn’t give you proper notice and offer you a chance to fix things.
You dispute how much the landlord says you owe.
You’ve already paid what you owe or the landlord refused payment.
The landlord is charging you improper late fees or attorney fees.
Your landlord can only charge you what’s included in your lease. Late fees are capped at 10% of your monthly rent or 10% of the total you owe – whichever is less.
The landlord did not keep the property safe and habitable. If you use this, you have to prove that you notified the landlord in writing about your complaint. To use this defense, you must pay your monthly rent into escrow with the court. You can’t use it simply because you’re behind on payments.
The landlord is only evicting you because you complained or used your legal rights. To use this, you have to prove that the landlord knows that you complained to them (like a copy of an email exchange), complained to a government agency, or joined a tenant’s group before they sued for eviction.
What if I disagree with the judge’s decision?
If you don’t agree with the judge’s decision, you have 10 days to file for an appeal. This will move your case to a higher court.
The higher court (Circuit Court) will hear your case brand new under a different judge. You can also ask for a jury trial in Circuit Court.
To appeal your original case, you have to file a “Notice of Appeal” (form DC-475) in the General District Clerk’s office. You must pay or get the court to waive the fees of the Circuit Court, and then pay or get the court to waive the Appeal Bond.
If your case is because you haven’t been paying rent, you cannot ask the court to waive your appeal bond. You must pay an appeal bond for the amount of the money judgement, and then continue paying your rent as it becomes due.
I live in subsidized housing. Do all of these rules still apply to me?
For the most part, the eviction process is the same. If you’re in federally subsidized housing, however, you have some additional protections.
A federally subsidized landlord has to have a good reason to evict you. This means not paying rent, not obeying your lease rules, you broke the lease many times in many ways, you broke the law many times and many ways, you’ve damaged the property, or you’re a danger to the health and safety of other tenants.
If you have a Housing Choice Voucher, let the Public Housing Authority know immediately that you are unable to pay your rent. Give them copies of any communication between you and your landlord. If you end up being evicted, they have the right to terminate your voucher, and they often will, but you can request a grievance hearing.
If you think you’re being evicted illegally or request a grievance hearing, you can present a defense.
You can have a lawyer with you, and you should at least speak to one.
If you lose your hearing and are evicted, you may lose your voucher.
The landlord cannot make you pay anything that is not required under their “Housing Assistance Payment” contract or for nonpayment of the subsidized portion of your rent.
If you’re in the first year of your lease, the landlord can only evict you if it’s your fault, like non-payment of rent. After the first year, the landlord can evict you for other reasons, like their desire to change the use of the property.
In order to evict you, your landlord has to provide you with written notice, and that notice must include:
The reason you’re being evicted. Only these reasons can be used to evict you.
The proposed date for ending your lease.
Informing you of your right to present defenses, and the legal aid phone number and website address.
If you live in traditional public housing, the Public Housing Authority is your landlord. They still have to follow all of the federal regulations that handle your housing and the eviction process. If they evict you, however, you may lose your opportunity to receive federally assisted low-income housing and barred from re-admission to subsidized housing for 5 or more years, depending on the circumstances.
The Public Housing Authority can evict you for any of the reasons listed above for the Housing Choice Voucher program, and you have the same right to a grievance hearing. The window of opportunity for you is short, so pay close attention to the dates and please speak to an attorney.
How about for a mobile home?
For the most part, the rules are the same as other housing, but there are some special rules for mobile home parks with 5 or more mobile homes.
When you initially sign your lease, your landlord must provide you with a written statement of tenant rights and responsibilities within one month of the effective date of the rental agreement. Your landlord cannot file or maintain any action against you for any alleged lease violation until they have provided that statement.
If you lose your eviction case, you have 90 days from the date of the judge’s order for possession to leave. You have a few choices:
You can simply move your mobile home or sell it. Your landlord cannot interfere with your efforts to sell or move the home, but they can have rules about where you put a “For Sale” sign and how large it can be.
You can rent your mobile home to someone else, but your landlord has to approve this new tenant. The new tenant would then pay you, but you would still be responsible for paying the landlord for the lot rent.
If you don’t pay, the company that finances your mobile home will get notice and will exercise their lien. They will be responsible for any lot charges for 90 days but can then repossess your mobile home. Your landlord will also have a lien on your home for the period that you don’t pay rent, but they will be secondary to your lender.
If you find a buyer for your mobile you have to give the landlord written notice that you’ve found someone and they want to continue to rent the lot.
The buyer will still have to meet the same qualifications that you did.
If they qualify, the landlord can’t refuse the sale just because the mobile home is old, and they can’t require any repairs that they haven’t asked other mobile home tenants to make.
If you (or a new owner) decide to move the mobile home, the landlord cannot charge you an “exit fee” but can charge you for any damages.
If you simply abandon your mobile home, the landlord should send “notice of abandonment” and what is owed in rent and other charges to your lender and you. The lender has a lien on the mobile home, which you are responsible for, and they will have a certain amount of time to either remove or dispose of it.
I’m being evicted from a hotel.
If you have lived in the hotel for 90 days or less and don’t have a lease that lasts 90 days, the hotel can evict you by giving you 5 days’ written notice. After the 5 days, the hotel can kick you out without taking you to court.
If you have lived in the hotel for more than 90 days and it is your primary residence, the hotel must go through the court eviction process. If it’s for non-payment of rent, they must give you 14-days’ notice before taking you to court, and you can pay rent and any late fees or charges within those 14 days and avoid the eviction filing.
If you cannot pay within those 14 days, your landlord can file an “unlawful detainer” and take you to court.
Much like a home or apartment, your landlord must go through these processes, so it’s a wise idea to speak to an attorney.
My Lease is Up, But I Want to Stay.
If your lease is up and you’ve not made an agreement with your landlord to continue your lease, they can go through the normal eviction process to remove you from the property. If your landlord lets you stay without saying anything and you continue to pay rent, they are accepting rent “without reservation” and the terms of your old lease still apply. If your landlord agrees to let you stay on, but does not sign a new lease with you, the terms of your old lease still apply.
You and your landlord can come up with a written agreement before your current lease is up.
Some leases have “auto renewal clauses” meaning that if neither you nor your landlord inform the other about moving out within a certain timeframe, the lease without automatically renew.
If your lease does not include an “auto renewal clause” and the landlord doesn’t give you a notice to leave, your old will roll over into a new lease. A yearly lease will roll over into a month-to-month lease, a month-to-month lease remains a month-to-month lease, and a weekly lease remains a weekly lease.
If you rent a lot in a mobile home park, your lease will automatically renew for a one-year term. If your landlord wants to change the new lease, they have to provide you written notice at least 60 days before your current lease expires.
My Landlord Locked Me Out or Cut Off My Utilities
No matter what your lease says or your landlord tells you or what they say in a written notice, your landlord cannot evict you, lock you out, or cut off your utilities without a court order. Even if they’ve filed an eviction lawsuit, they cannot take any action until the court says a sheriff can come and evict you. If they do lock you out or try to take such action, you can immediately file for a “Tenant’s Petition for Relief from Unlawful Exclusion”.
Go to the General District Court in the city or county where you live and ask to file a “Tenant’s Petition for Relief from Unlawful Exclusion” lawsuit. This is “Form DC-431”, and you don’t need an attorney to file it.
To fill it out, you’ll need some information about your landlord.
Google “real property search” and the name of your city or county to find out who actually owns your home.
If it’s a person, use their name and address for the Form DC-431.
If it’s an LLC or corporation, you’ll also need to call the Virginia State Corporation Commission (804-371-9733 or 866-722-2551) or go to their website to find the information for their “Registered Agent”. When you fill out the DC-431, use the company name and the physical address of their registered agent.
Now, what do you want the judge to do? Do you simply want back into your home? Do you want your utilities back on? Do you wish to terminate your lease? Do you want the landlord to pay you damages or any fees you’ve had to pay? Check the boxes on the form that apply to your situation.
You’ll have to pay a filing fee to have a sheriff “serve” your landlord with your lawsuit. You can ask for a “Petition for Proceeding in Civil Case without Payment of Fees or Costs” if you can’t afford the fee.
It’s not required, but you should send your landlord a letter letting them know that you’re suing them. Include a copy of your lawsuit and keep a copy of the letter for yourself.
When you file, the court will set a hearing date within five days and serve the landlord with a summons so that they’ll know to appear. They may set a date very quickly, even before the landlord is served. If this happens and you are the only one to show up to the hearing, there will be a second hearing date within ten days after your first hearing with the landlord present.
Before your hearing date, prepare. Get your evidence together and practice what you want to say to the judge. Your evidence should include your lease, receipts, pictures, text messages and emails, or anything else that supports your case. You can also call witnesses. If the witnesses don’t want to appear, you can ask the clerk to subpoena them. There is a small fee to do this, unless the court has waived your filing fees.
If you don’t show up for your case, the judge will dismiss your case. If your landlord doesn’t show up but you do, the judge should rule in your favor.
If you both show up, you get to go first. You can present your case, your evidence, and call any witnesses. The landlord or the judge may ask you questions. The landlord gets to present their own evidence and witnesses. You can question your landlord about what they’ve claimed, but you cannot argue with them.
The judge will make a ruling.
If the judge rules that you have been unlawfully excluded, then you can recover:
$5,000 “statutory” damages or four months’ rent (whichever is greater),
“actual damages,” i.e. money you had to spend because you were illegally evicted;
and attorney’s fees, if you had an attorney represent you.
If your landlord continues to harass you or make you uncomfortable after you’ve filed your lawsuit, call the police. Show them a copy of your “Tenant’s Relief” lawsuit. You can also call your local legal aid for help.