What laws apply to tenants and landlords in Fairfax County?
Some key laws that govern tenant-landlord relationships in Fairfax County are the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA), Chapter 12 of the Fairfax County Code, and the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC.)
The VRLTA establishes the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords in all jurisdictions throughout Virginia. The VRLTA applies to occupancy in all single-family and multifamily dwellings, as well as public housing units, that are subject to this chapter. Section § 55.1-1204 (H) of the VRLTA requires landlords to provide tenants with a Statement of Tenant Rights and Responsibilities. This statement summarizes a tenant's rights and responsibilities under the VRLTA.
Chapter 12 of the Fairfax County Code applies to rental agreements for dwellings located within Fairfax County. This code establishes policies that govern relationships between tenants and landlords, and outlines the duties of Consumer Affairs and the Tenant-Landlord Commission. Section 12-1-2 of this code requires landlords to post a sign containing a notice of the existence of the Tenant-Landlord Commission and the contact information for Consumer Affairs.
The VUSBC establishes the minimum standards for safety and quality of life issues in all dwellings, whether occupied by an owner or tenant. This code covers plumbing, electrical, structural, heating, hot water supply, appliances, fixtures, equipment, and environmental conditions, both inside and outside the property. These standards determine the level of maintenance required by the landlord. If the minimum standards are not met, review the Tenant Resource Sheet and contact the Department of Code Compliance at 703-324-1300, TTY 711. Visit Consumer Affairs for more tenant-landlords laws.
RENT AND FEES
Can an application fee be returned if the application wasn’t approved or the applicant decided not to rent?
To be considered as a tenant by a landlord, an applicant may have to pay a nonrefundable application fee and a refundable application deposit.
Under the VRLTA , § 55.1-1203, an application fee is nonrefundable and cannot be more than $50.00. If the housing unit is subject to regulation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the nonrefundable application fee cannot be more than $32. These fees may include background, credit, or other pre-occupancy checks on the applicant by the landlord or managing agent.
If the applicant decides not to rent the unit after paying a refundable application deposit and summitted an application, or the application is not approved, the landlord must refund all payments in excess of the landlord's actual expenses and damages together with an itemized list to the applicant within 20 days. If the application deposit was made by cash, certified check, cashier's check, or postal money order, the refund is to be made within 10 days of the applicant's failure to rent the unit if the failure to rent is due to the landlord's rejection of the application.
Read the rental application and understand what is refundable and nonrefundable before you pay any money and keep a copy of the application for your records.
Is there any limit or ceiling on rent increases?
There is no limit or ceiling on rent increases in Virginia. The Dillion Rule applies in Fairfax County so there are no statutes or ordinances that limit the amount a landlord may charge for the use and occupancy of their property as a residence by tenants. This means a landlord can increase rent to current market rental rates regardless of how long you have rented there. A landlord cannot increase rent during the lease term. Rent can be increased at the end of the lease term or lease renewal if proper written notice of the rent increase is provided to the tenant by the landlord.
A landlord rents to two tenants. There is one lease, but the tenants pay rent by separate checks. One of the tenants didn’t pay their half of the rent. What can the landlord do to collect the rent owed?
As a landlord, always look to the lease agreement for answers. If the lease states the tenants are "jointly and severally" responsible, each tenant is jointly and separately responsible for the entire rent amount. This means each tenant is liable for the full rent amount and the landlord is not bound by any agreement the tenants have to share the rent. If the full amount of rent is not paid according to the lease agreement, review the steps of the eviction process for nonpayment of rent to decide how to proceed. Since this is a legal procedure, consult an attorney for more guidance.
How much can a landlord require as a security deposit?
A landlord may require a security deposit of up to two month’s rent. Section code 55.1-1226 of the VRLTA outlines requirements for security deposits along with guidance for the disposition of the security deposit after termination of the tenancy.
Can a security deposit pay for the last months' 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.
A tenant left a rental unit three months ago and the landlord has not returned the security deposit. How can the tenant recoup the security deposit?
The VRLTA requires the landlord to return the security deposit within 45 days of the tenant’s termination of the premises, and provide an itemized list of any damages or items that resulted in deductions. If the landlord does not respond to requests or the tenant disagrees with the deductions from the security deposit, the tenant may file a written complaint for voluntary mediation with the Consumer Affairs Branch.
A tenant rented for several years. The landlord says they don't owe any interest on the security deposit. Is this correct?
Prior to January 1, 2015, the VRLTA required a landlord to pay interest on security deposits held in excess of 13 months. Since this requirement was removed, landlords are not required to pay interest on a security deposit.
A tenant receives a partial return of the security deposit and a list of deductions for "damages" not noted during the move-out inspection. Can the landlord do this?
The purpose of the move-out inspection is to give the tenant and landlord the opportunity to view the dwelling together and work out any problems that might affect the return of the tenant’s deposit. If there are damages or conditions that were not seen or identifiable during the inspection, the landlord may seek recovery for the damages. However, the tenant may present a copy of the move-out report to support the tenant's position that the additional damages did not exist at the time of the move-out inspection. Review § 55.1-1226 of the VRLTA for details about security deposits.
After a lease agreement has been signed, can the tenant break the lease if the neighborhood feels unsafe.
The lease agreement is a binding contract. The tenant and the landlord have a legal obligation to complete the term of the agreement. When a lease is broken or terminated early, the landlord may charge the tenant for cleaning, repairs, redecorating, rental advertising costs, reasonable attorney fees, loss of rental income, rent for the remainder of the lease term or until a new rental starts. Since breaking a lease can have consequences such as a civic lawsuit, credit judgment or make it difficult to rent another unit, the tenant can discuss the situation with the landlord to try to find a mutual agreement for ending the lease. If an agreement for a mutual early termination of the lease is reached, get it in writing. If no agreement is reached, understand the potential costly consequences. A landlord’s duty to mitigate actual damages due to a breach of the lease agreement by a tenant are outlined in § 55.1-1251 of the VRLTA.
MAINTENANCE AND REPAIR
Can the tenant withhold the rent if the landlord violates the lease or fails to provide maintenance?
Rent should never be withheld. A landlord can proceed with eviction proceedings if the tenant doesn't pay rent for any reason. If there are maintenance issues or repairs needed in the dwelling that that landlord won’t fix, review the Tenant Resource Sheet to find out which county agency to call for assistance. Contact Consumer Affairs at 703-222-8435 for guidance and discuss options such as voluntary mediation.
If the landlord has failed to perform maintenance or repair duties as it relates to health, safety or habitability concerns, a tenant may consider paying rent in an escrow account in the Fairfax County General District Court. A tenant should review § 55.1-1244 of the VRLTA. To request the rent escrow account, a tenant must file the Tenant's Assertion and Complaint Form in the Fairfax County General District Court. Since this is a legal procedure, consider talking with a lawyer for more guidance.
A tenant has no heat or hot water. The landlord hasn't fixed the problem after many notices. What can the tenant do?
If the landlord has failed to perform maintenance or repairs after they have been notified of the problem, review the Tenant Resource Sheet to see which county agency can assist. No heat from October 15-May 1, and lack of hot water during tenancy are violations of the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC.) Contact the Department of Code Compliance at 703-324-1300, TTY 711 to request an inspection. For voluntary mediation, file a complaint with the Consumer Affairs Branch.
A tenant rented an older apartment because the landlord said it would be renovated. However, there is no new paint or carpets, the air conditioner is noisy, there is no microwave, and the tile is very old. What can the tenant do to make the landlord improve these things?
It can be very difficult to enforce a verbal agreement if the landlord doesn’t do what was promised or refuses to upgrade older appliances, worn carpeting or paint that is not fresh. While § 55.1-1220 the VRLTA requires a landlord to make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition, there is no requirement to paint or replace carpet between tenancies. Put the request in writing with as much detail as possible. If the landlord does not respond, contact the Department of Code Compliance to find out if these conditions are possible violations of the VUSBC and contact Consumer Affairs to discuss options such as voluntary mediation.
After renting for five years, a landlord gives a tenant notice to vacate and won't renew the lease. The tenant believes this may be discrimination. What can the tenant do?
A landlord is not required to renew or extend a lease agreement beyond its termination date, or to give a reason for not renewing or extending the lease if proper notice is given. If the tenant believes there is discrimination, call the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission at 703-324-2953, TTY 711.
The tenant gave a verbal notice to end the tenancy. Is a verbal notice to vacate binding?
The VRLTA, § 55.1-1253 requires written notice by either the tenant or landlord to end a tenancy. The tenant cannot rely on witnesses or verbal statements to satisfy a lease requirement. The lease will state how much notice must provided to terminate the agreement and how and when notice must be given before the end of the lease term. A notice can be submitted earlier than required but not less than the time stated in the lease. Before a notice submitted, make sure the requirements outlined in the lease agreement have been followed. After notice has been provided, follow up with the landlord to confirm receipt of the notice and keep a copy for records.
A tenant rents a room in a private house with a lease agreement, which doesn't end for six months, however, the landlord is demanding the tenant move out immediately. Can a landlord do this?
No, the landlord can’t a tenant. Both the tenant and landlord must follow the lease agreement or applicable Virginia Codes to terminate a lease agreement by providing proper written notice. A landlord is not allowed to change the locks, remove your belongings, or cut off utilities to force a tenant out. An eviction is a court judgment resulting from a legal court process and an order by a judge. If a landlord attempts to carry out an illegal eviction, a tenant should call the Fairfax County Police non-emergency number at 703-691-2131.
If a landlord cuts off utilities, locks out a tenant, or evicts a tenant without taking the tenant to court, the tenant can take the landlord to court by filing a lawsuit called a “Tenant's Petition for Relief from Unlawful Exclusion” against the landlord. Review § 55.1-1243.1 of the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act for guidance.