What laws apply to tenants and landlords in Fairfax County?
Key laws that govern tenant-landlord relationships in Fairfax County are the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA), Chapter 13 - Landlord and Tenant and the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC.)
The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA) applies to all jurisdictions in Virginia. The VRLTA applies to all landlords unless they own two or fewer single-family residential dwelling units and the rental agreement states they opt out of the VRLTA.
Chapter 13 - Landlord and Tenant of the Virginia code applies if the landlord is exempt from the VRLTA and expressly opts out of the VRLTA by stating in the rental agreement. §§ 55-225.01 through 55-225.48 of Chapter 13 - Landlord and Tenant will apply.
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 you feel your dwelling does not meet the minimum standards of the VUSBC, review the Tenant Resource Sheet and contact the Department of Code Compliance at 703-324-1300, TTY 711.
RENT AND FEES
I had to pay an application fee to be considered for a rental. Can I get this fee back if I decide not to rent, or if my application isn't approved?
To be considered as a tenant by a landlord, you may have to pay a nonrefundable fee and a refundable application deposit.
Under the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (§ 55-248.4), 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.
The landlord may require a refundable application deposit in addition to a nonrefundable application fee (§ 55-248.6:1). If you decide not to rent the unit after submitting an application or your 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 get 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.
I rented my condominium 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 this month because they lost their job. What can I do to collect the rent they owe?
As a landlord, always look to your lease agreement for answers. If your 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 you are 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 procedures for nonpayment of rent to decide how to proceed.
How much can a landlord require as a security deposit?
When the VRLTA applies, a security deposit may not exceed two months' rent.
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.
I moved from a rental unit three months ago and the landlord has ignored my requests to return my security deposit. How can I get my money back?
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 your requests or you disagree with deductions from your security deposit, you can file a complaint for voluntary mediation with the Consumer Affairs Branch at 703-222-8435, TTY 711.
I rented a townhouse for nine years. The landlord says they don't owe any interest on my security deposit. Aren’t I owed interest?
Prior to January 1, 2015, the VRLTA required a landlord to pay interest on security deposits held in excess of 13 months. Virginia code does not currently require interest to be paid on a security deposit. However, interest earned prior to the repeal of the Virginia code must be paid.
I received only part of my security deposit and a list of deductions for "damages" that were not noted during the move-out inspection. Can my landlord do this?
The purpose of the move-out inspection is to give the tenant and landlord the opportunity to view the rental 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 additional damages did not exist at the time of the move-out inspection. Review § 55-248.15:1 of the VRLTA for details about security deposits.
If I don't like my apartment or the neighborhood, can I break the lease and move out? What happens if I do?
Your lease agreement is a binding contract and both you 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, discuss it with your 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.
MAINTENANCE AND REPAIR
Can I withhold the rent if the landlord violates the lease or fails to provide maintenance?
You should never withhold rent. A landlord can proceed with eviction proceedings if you don’t pay your rent for any reason. If there are maintenance issues or repairs needed in your unit that your landlord won’t fix, review the Tenant Resource Sheet to find out which county agency to call for assistance. If you are not sure who to contact, call Consumer Affairs at 703-222-8435 for guidance and discuss options such as mediation.
If you believe your landlord has failed to perform their maintenance or repair duties as it relates to health, safety or habitability concerns, a tenant may consider paying their rent in an escrow account in the Fairfax County General District Court. If your landlord is governed by the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA), review § 55-248.27. If your landlord is not governed by the VRLTA, review § 55-225.12. Since this is a legal procedure, a tenant should consider talking with a lawyer for assistance.
We have no heat or hot water. The landlord hasn't fixed the problem after many notices. What can I do?
If you have a problem in your rental unit that your landlord won’t fix after you gave them notice of the problem, review the Tenant Resource Sheet to see which county agency can assist you. 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.
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?
If you did not get these promises in writing from the landlord, it may 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 § 55-248.13 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 your request in writing with as much details 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 mediation.
After renting for five years, my landlord gave me a notice to vacate and won't renew my lease. I think they are discriminating against me. What can I 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 you believe you are being discriminated against call the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission at 703-324-2953, TTY 711.
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 a written notice. Doesn’t the landlord have to honor my verbal notice that everyone heard?
Both the VRLTA and Chapter 13 of the Virginia Code require written notice by either the tenant or landlord to end a tenancy. You cannot rely on witnesses or verbal statements to satisfy a lease requirement. Your lease will state how much notice you must provide to terminate the agreement and how and when you must give notice before the end of your lease term. You can submit your notice earlier than required but not less than the time stated in your lease. Section 55-248.37 of the VRLTA and § 55-225.38 of Chapter 13 outline notice requirements. Before you submit a notice, make sure you are following the requirements outlined in the lease agreement or the applicable Virginia Code. After you provide notice, follow up with the landlord to confirm they received your notice and keep a copy for your records.
I have a lease agreement to rent a room in a private house, but now the landlord is demanding I move out immediately. Can he evict me like this?
No, your landlord can’t evict you. 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 you 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.