Frequently Asked Questions


LAWS

What laws protect me as a tenant in Fairfax County?

RENT AND FEES

I had to pay an application fee to be considered for an apartment rental. Can I get this fee back if I decide not to rent, or if my application isn't approved?

Is there any limit or ceiling on rent increases?

I rented my condominium to two individuals. One lost his job and hasn't paid his half of the rent. What can I do to collect the back rent?

SECURITY DEPOSIT

How much can a landlord require as a security deposit?

Can I use my security deposit for the last month's rent?

I moved from a rental unit three months ago and the landlord has ignored my requests for return of my security deposit. How can I get my money back?

I rented a townhouse for nine years. The landlord now says he doesn't owe any interest on my security deposit. Aren’t I owed interest?

I received only part of my security deposit and a list of deductions for "damages" that were not noted during the walk-through inspection. Is this legal?

MAINTENANCE AND REPAIR

Can I withhold the rent if the landlord violates the lease or fails to provide maintenance?

We have no heat or hot water. The landlord hasn't fixed the problem even after many phone messages. What can I do?

I rented an older apartment because the landlord said it would be all fixed up and very nice to live in. There is no new paint or carpets, the air conditioner is noisy, there is no microwave, and the tile is very old. How can I make the landlord improve these things?

DISCRIMINATION

After renting for five years, my landlord gave me a notice to vacate and won't renew my lease. I think he is discriminating against me. What can I do?

MOVING OUT

Two months ago, I told the manager in front of the whole staff that I had to move, and he said OK. Now, the manager has charged an extra month's rent for not giving proper required notice. Is this legal?

I have a lease agreement to rent a room in a private house, but now the landlord is demanding that I move out, immediately. Can he evict me like this?

If I don't like the apartment or the area, can I break the lease or just move out? What happens if I do?

 


What laws protect me as a tenant in Fairfax County?
There are two major laws that govern tenant-landlord relationships in Fairfax County: the Virginia The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA) and the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC).

The VRLTA applies to all rental properties and agreements in Fairfax County where the landlord owns and rents more than four dwelling units. Most condominium and single family house rentals are not governed by the VRLTA. If your rental agreement is not governed by the VRLTA, your rights and responsibilities as a tenant or landlord are limited to what is in the written rental agreement. If you have no written rental agreement, you have practically no rights, protections, controls or limits over your rental situation.

The VUSBC establishes the minimum standards for health and safety in all dwellings, whether occupied by an owner or tenant; and it applies even if the rental agreement is not governed by the VRLTA. This code covers such items as plumbing, electric, structure, heat, hot water supply, appliances and equipment, and environmental conditions, both inside and out of the property. These standards determine the level of upkeep and maintenance required of the landlord or tenant, according to the rental agreement. If you feel your dwelling does not meet the minimum standards of the VUSBC, contact the Department of Code Compliance at 703-324-1300, TTY 711.

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I had to pay an application fee to be considered for an apartment rental. Can I get this fee back if I decide not to rent, or if my application isn't approved?
Yes, if the application fee exceeds $20. The landlord must refund, within 20 days, all application and/or deposit money in excess of his actual expenses and damages, together with an itemized list of those expenses and damages. If a rental unit was reserved for you and you changed your mind after approval, you might be charged for lost rental income. If the application is rejected and you paid by cash, certified check, cashier's check or money order, the return must be within ten days of rejection.

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Is there any limit or ceiling on rent increases?
There is no rent control in Virginia. A landlord can increase rent to whatever the rental market will bear, regardless of how long you have rented there. However, a landlord cannot increase rent during the term of the rental agreement.

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I rented my condominium to two individuals, but one lost his job and hasn't paid his half of the rent. What can I do to collect the back rent?
Most leases state that all tenants are "jointly and severally" responsible. That means that any agreement to share or proportion the rent is between the tenants only, but each has a legal responsibility for the full payment. If one tenant can't uphold his part of the agreement the other(s) must still pay the full amount of rent or face eviction for non-payment.

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How much can a landlord require as a security deposit?
When the Virginia Residential Landlord & Tenant Act (VRLTA) applies, a security deposit may not exceed two months' rent, however, usual practice is one month's rent. There is no limit or control when the VRLTA does not apply.

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Can I use my security deposit for the last month's rent?
No. The deposit is required to secure the tenant's performance of all parts of the rental agreement and is a security against any damages to the leased premises. It is not a rental payment.

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I moved from a rental unit three months ago and the landlord has ignored my requests for return of my security deposit. How can I get my money back?
The Virginia Residential Landlord & Tenant Act (VRLTA) and most lease agreements require the landlord to return the security deposit within 30 days of the tenant’s surrender of the premises, and to include an itemized list of any damages that resulted in deductions. If the landlord does not respond to your requests or you disagree with deductions, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Affairs Division at 703-222-8435, TTY 711.

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I rented a townhouse for nine years. The landlord now says he doesn't owe any interest on my security deposit. Aren’t I owed interest?
The Virginia Residential Landlord & Tenant Act (VRLTA) requires a landlord to pay interest on security deposits held in excess of 13 months, but most leases don't mention interest. If the VRLTA doesn’t apply (the landlord owns and rents less than five rental units), the interest requirement in the VRLTA does not apply. However, if your lease agreement specifically states that interest is to be paid, that is enforceable even if the VRLTA does not apply.

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I received only part of my security deposit and a list of deductions for "damages" that were not noted during the walk-through inspection. Is this legal?
Neither the Virginia Residential Landlord & Tenant Act (VRLTA) nor most lease agreements require that deductible damages must be found and identified during the walk-through inspection. It is quite possible that damages or conditions were covered up or just not identifiable until a cleaning or maintenance crew enters the unit. If the damages are verifiable to the former tenant, the landlord may legally deduct for the necessary repairs.

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If I don't like the apartment or the area, can I break the lease or just move out? What happens if I do?
A lease agreement is a legally binding contract under which the tenant is liable for all rent due through the termination date of that contract. If a tenant breaks the rental agreement before the termination date, the landlord can claim damages for loss of rental income, re-advertising, redecorating, reasonable attorney fees, or other expenses caused by your breach of the contract. If you must break the contract, discuss it with the landlord to find if a reasonable cost can be agreed to; get it in writing and signed by both parties so there is no misunderstanding at a later date.

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Can I withhold the rent if the landlord violates the lease or fails to provide maintenance?
No! There is no legal reason to withhold a rent payment. The lease agreement is a binding contract in which you agreed to pay the rent, so non-payment or withholding of the rent is as much of a violation as the landlord's alleged violation. If you have a complaint, first make it in writing to your landlord. You may also file a complaint with the Consumer Affairs Division or call 703-222-8435, TTY 711. Other possible options are outlined on pages 14-15 of the Tenant-Landlord Handbook (249KB PDF file)

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We have no heat or hot water. The landlord hasn't fixed the problem even after many phone messages. What can I do?
Follow up with a written and dated letter stating the problem and requesting prompt correction. Lack of heat (in season) and hot water (year round) are violations of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC), and of your lease. Contact the Fairfax County Health Dept. at 703-246-2300, TTY 711, to request an inspection, and, if the landlord doesn’t respond, file a complaint form with the Consumer Affairs Division at 703-222-8435, TTY 711.

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I rented an older apartment because the landlord said it would be all fixed up and very nice to live in. There is no new paint or carpets, the air conditioner is noisy, there is no microwave, and the tile is very old. How can I make the landlord improve these things?
These are conditions that existed when you inspected the premises. There is no legal requirement that a rental unit must be repainted and/or re-carpeted between rentals; noisy equipment is not a violation of law; a microwave may be a common convenience but is not a legal requirement; and the old tile, if safe and secure, is acceptable. If these or similar conditions are not violations of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC) and the promised improvements were not set down in writing as a condition and requirement of the rental agreement, then you accepted these conditions "as is" when you signed the lease and you can't force the landlord to make the improvements. Get it in writing or don't sign the lease.

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After renting for five years, my landlord gave me a notice to vacate and won't renew my lease. I think he is discriminating against me. What can I do?
There is no law that requires any landlord to renew or extend a lease agreement beyond its termination date, or to give any reason for not renewing or extending. If, however, you believe you are being discriminated against or your civil rights are being violated, you should call the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission at 703-324-2953, TTY 711.

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Two months ago, I told the manager in front of the whole staff that I had to move, and he said OK. Now, the manager has charged an extra month's rent for not giving proper required notice. Is this legal?
If your lease agreement says that either party may terminate by giving written notice, then notice of termination MUST be in writing. Even if you have a dozen witnesses who heard you tell the manager that you were moving, you have not given the proper notice as required in the lease. When you do send written notice, keep a dated copy of this notice for your records.

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I have a lease agreement to rent a room in a private house, but now the landlord is demanding that I move out, immediately. Can he evict me like this?
No, he can't, for two reasons. First, an eviction is a court judgment resulting from a legal process in court and only the judge can issue an eviction order. No landlord has that authority. Secondly, the lease agreement is just as binding on the landlord as on the tenant, so if there is no breach of lease agreement, there is no justification for an eviction. However, if the landlord files for an eviction anyway, you MUST attend the court hearing to defend your right to remain in the premises.

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