Landlord - Tenant FYIs

Landlord - Tenant Overview

Landlord and tenant relations are governed by the VRLTA. The Act outlines the rights of tenants and landlords, including in regards to mold, lead paint, security deposits, and late rent, among many other issues. Notably, this Act does not apply to certain situations, such as on campus housing at a public university or college and housing provided for the benefit of a fraternal or social organization, so bear that in mind as you determine where you want to live while you attend UVA. Va. Code § 55.1-1201. Please note that anything explained below that is summarized from the VRLTA only applies to off-campus housing that is not fraternal or social organization housing.  

  • Read the lease carefully. The VRLTA puts some limitations on landlords but that doesn’t mean that landlords can’t be more reasonable than required by the law. 
    • Be wary of:
      • Arbitration clauses (requiring you to resolve matters outside of court without the possibility of appeal)
      • Acceleration clauses (requiring you to pay all rent that is still owed on a lease all at once if you miss one payment)
      • Collection fees (requiring you to pay a certain percentage of your rent or a fee if you miss a payment in addition to a late fee)
      • Waivers of landlord liability (requiring you to pay for things that could be due to your landlord's negligence)
      • Any lease permitting the landlord to use self-help (changing locks, removing your belongings) to evict you without court process first
    • Be aware of:
      • Rental insurance requirements - make sure coverage starts on the first day your lease starts
      • Notice of maintenance issues in writing 
      • Prompt notification of water leaks to avoid resulting damage being blamed on you
  • All roommates should sign the lease at the same time. Please note that while roommates may agree to split the rent evenly between themselves, it is each roommate’s responsibility to pay the entire rent, even if a roommate doesn’t contribute. Consider signing a roommate agreement that can show what every roommate owes toward rent and other expenses for the property or seeing if the landlord will let you sign an individual lease for your specific room.
  • You may feel that you do not have bargaining power over certain provisions; consider asking the landlord about the terms to get more clarity. They may be willing to work with you on changing terms you find problematic. If you and the landlord agree to a term not already included in the lease, write it into the lease and have everyone initial besides the added term. 

Landlords may charge up to 2 months’ rent to serve as a security deposit. Va. Code § 55.1-1226. They have 45 days after you move out to return the deposit to you, minus any costs to fix damages caused to the unit during your tenancy, missed rent and late fees, and any other charges agreed to in the lease. Make sure to provide your landlord with a forwarding address so you can get your security deposit returned to you! 


Always note any damage to the unit as soon as you move in on a Move-in Condition report and return it to the landlord within 5 days of move-in (but make sure to keep a copy). This can prevent the landlord from blaming you for those conditions and help you get those issues fixed. 


Take pictures of the unit when you move out and have finished cleaning it. If your landlord claims that you caused damage that didn’t exist when you moved out to try to keep your security deposit, you will have evidence that can be used to get your full deposit returned.  


Get renter’s insurance to protect you from loss of property and bodily injury to another. Alternatively, a parent’s homeowner’s insurance may cover your apartment.  


“If the landlord makes an unlawful entry or a lawful entry in an unreasonable manner or makes repeated demands for entry that is otherwise lawful but that have the effect of unreasonably harassing the tenant, the tenant may obtain [court intervention] to prevent the recurrence of the conduct, or terminate the rental agreement. In either case, the tenant may recover actual damages and reasonable attorney fees.” Va. Code § 55.1-1210

Landlords are permitted to come onto the property for repairs and maintenance, provided that notice is given in a timely fashion based on whether the maintenance constitutes an emergency. The landlord also has the responsibility to providing a tenant with lodging (and paying for it) if the tenant must leave the property for up to 30 days due to maintenance. Va. Code § 55.1-1229B.  


Breaking a lease is very hard. Students are often in a rush to sign leases in the Fall for the following school year and may feel under a lot of pressure to sign one, even without seeing the rental unit first. Then later on they may realize that the unit is too expensive or does not fit their needs, but do not realize that the lease they just signed is actually almost impossible to break. Here are the general ways allowed by the law to break a lease without financial and legal penalties:

1. Being a member of the U.S Armed Forces who is stationed more than 35 miles away either permanently or longer than 3 months, or who is discharged (Va. Code § 55.1-1235):

2. Being harmed by domestic or sexual abuse as evidenced by a protective order or criminal conviction (Va. Code § 55.1-1236); and

3. A non-fixable breach of the lease by the landlord (Va. Code § 55.1-1234).

4. A condition a landlord has been notified about but refuses to fix (Va. Code § 55.1-1234)

5. Additionally, if someone has a disability that requires them to break the lease because they have to live elsewhere to receive care, the landlord must allow them to do so (HUD Website).

Landlords also may allow for early lease termination in the lease itself, which usually involves subletting or lease transfer. A lease transfer usually requires the tenant and possibly the prospective tenant to pay a hefty fee, especially if the landlord is the one finding the replacement tenant. A tenant is still financially responsible for the rent until the other person signs a lease and is approved by the landlord. If the lease requires prior permission to sublet, then prior written permission is required, or the landlord may exact any penalties provided in the lease for failure to obtain prior permission.

If a tenant breaks the lease outside of the provisions of the law or of the lease, they will still be financially responsible for all rent for the full term of the lease, until the landlord can find a replacement. The law requires the landlord to try to find a new tenant as soon as possible, but realistically, a landlord may struggle to find another tenant and the tenant must pay all the rent until a new tenant is found.

Breaking a lease can be very expensive, even if a tenant enters into a lease transfer agreement. Before a tenant breaks their lease, they should sit down and run the numbers of how much it will cost them to break the lease and pay double rent for 2-4 months (or maybe longer) versus how much it will cost them to remain in their current unit for the full lease term. If they terminate their lease early through a lease transfer or sublet, they will need to factor in the costs charged by the landlord for doing so.

If a tenant terminates outside of the provisions of their lease, they should NOT just ghost their landlord. They should notify the landlord in writing that they are terminating the lease and vacating the unit and turn in their keys. They must also be prepared to pay the rent for all the months the landlord is unsuccessful in finding a replacement tenant. Failure to do so will give the landlord grounds to sue the tenant for the rent, late fees and attorney’s fees in court. Landlords cannot know to start looking for a replacement tenant if they do not know the current tenant is no longer residing in the unit and has terminated their lease. 


You should notify your landlord immediately if there are conditions in the unit that affect your health, safety, and/or habitability. If you have caused the condition(s), your landlord does not have to make repairs and can charge your for any repairs. If you have not caused the problem, the landlord must address the condition(s) within a reasonable time after you have notified them.  

If the landlord doesn’t make the necessary repairs, you have 3 options.

  • Your first option is to make the repairs yourself and deduct the amount from your rent, up to $1,500 or one month’s rent, whichever is more (this option is called “repair and deduct”). Va. Code § 55.1-1244.1. To do so, you must
    • give your landlord written notice of the problem in-person or by mail and keep a copy;
    • wait 14 days for the landlord to fix the issue;
    • hire a licensed contractor to repair the issue; and
    • provide your landlord with an itemized statement of the costs of the repairs and the receipts. Then you can deduct the cost from your next rent payment.  

You must weigh the value of having the repairs done quickly in the face of your landlord’s inaction with the possibility that your landlord may disagree with the repairs and take you to court for not paying your entire rent payment.  

  • Your second option is to terminate the lease. If you prefer this option, you must send your landlord written notice to fix the problem within 21 days or the lease will terminate in 30 days (known as a “21/30 notice”). Your landlord may disagree with the repairs needed and take you to court for breaking your lease early.  
  • Your third option is to seek court intervention by filing a Tenant’s Assertion to as the court to make your landlord make the necessary repairs, return rent money to you, or terminate your lease. Va. Code § 55.1-1244. To be eligible to act on this option, you must be current on your rent, and give your landlord notice of the problem and wait 30 days for them to fix it unless it’s an emergency. If your landlord doesn’t fix it within the reasonable time, file a Tenant’s Assertion and Complaint with the General District Court in the jurisdiction where you live. You will then be required to pay your rent moving forward into an escrow account with the clerk’s office. The court will schedule a hearing and you will have the chance to provide evidence, like pictures of the issue(s) and receipts for the repairs.  

Examples of conditions that cause of a breach of lease if not repaired and not caused by the tenant: 

  • Mold (landlord must disclose this issue if it exists at the time of move-in inspection and tenant does have option to terminate lease – VA. Code § 55.1-1215
  • Rodents/pests 
  • Utilities like heat, water, and electricity 

Sample lease and sublease are available upon request. Please schedule an appointment to come into the office to review these forms with the attorney.

Civil Cover Sheet

Tenant's Assertion

Warrant in Debt


More Questions?

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Disclaimer: The information provided on this website is for general information purposes only and is not meant to advise on any particular legal issue. Laws change every year and it is possible that the information is no longer current or valid. For help with specific legal issues, you should consult an attorney.