The Consumer Affairs Branch provides advice, information, and education for tenants and landlords. We do not provide legal advice, but can offer guidance and resources to increase your understanding about tenant-landlord rights and responsibilities. Following is a summary of key Virginia tenant-landlord laws.
The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act is located in Chapter 12 of the Code of Virginia. 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 dwelling units as well as public housing units that are subject to this chapter. A single-family residence and a multi-family unit is defined in § 55.1-1200 as follows:
- Multi-family Dwelling Unit – more than one single-family dwelling unit located in a building.
- Single-family Residence - a structure, other than a multifamily residential structure maintained and used as a single dwelling unit, condominium unit, or any other dwelling unit that has direct access to a street or thoroughfare and does not share heating facilities, hot water equipment, or any other essential facility or essential service with any other dwelling unit.
Chapter 12 of the Fairfax County Code applies to rental agreements for dwelling units located within Fairfax County. Chapter 12 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.
If you believe your landlord has failed to perform their maintenance or repair duties as defined in the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA) or in the lease agreement as it relates to health, safety or habitability issues, 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 information and guidance.
Virginia’s state building codes and regulations are administered through the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code. To find out about property maintenance, and fire and health codes, contact the Fairfax County Department of Code Compliance. Information is also available from the
The zoning ordinance (Article 2, Part 5) limits how many people can live in a single residence. These codes define how many people can live in a house, how much space they need and what’s considered safe. In general, no more than one family, plus two renters, may live in one house, or no more than four unrelated people may live in one house. For questions about this ordinance, call 703-324-1300.
Section 61-5-1 of the Fairfax County code outlines safety requirements regarding smoke alarms, emergency exits and safety rules for bedrooms in basements. General Fire Safety information is available from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department or call Public Affairs and Life Safety Education at 703-246-3801.
The Fairfax County Human Rights Ordinance prohibits discrimination in housing. This ordinance is enforced by the Human Rights Division. Federal requirements are available from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Many apartments and houses built before 1978 may have paint that contains lead. Before a lease agreement starts, Federal law requires landlords to provide a disclosure statement about lead-based paint. Information about lead hazards is available from the Division of Environmental Health, Fairfax County Health Department. A good resource for information is the booklet, “Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home."
Tenants Facing Foreclosure
If you are renting a home that’s in foreclosure or has already been foreclosed, you have rights under § 55.1-1237 of the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act and the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA) under Section 304 of Public Law No. 115-174 .
The PTFA applies to foreclosures on all residential properties and provides most tenants with the right to a 90 days’ notice before being required to move after a foreclosure. Depending on circumstances, you may have the right to stay until the end of the lease term, or if your lease is month-to-month, you may have 90 days to move after the new owner gives you notice to leave. Review the law to determine how it applies to your situation.
Contact Consumer Affairs to find out about voluntary mediation. If you need help enforcing your rights under the Virginia code or the PTFA, talk to an attorney or contact Legal Services of Northern Virginia at 703-778-6800.
Eviction is the process by which a landlord regains possession of a rental property by entering a lawsuit against the tenant in the Fairfax County General District Court pursuant to Virginia Code § 8.01-126. The most common grounds for eviction are nonpayment of rent or breach of the rental agreement. A landlord cannot remove a tenant or their personal belongings, lock-out the tenant, or deliberately cut off essential services such as hot and cold running water or utilities. A landlord must obtain a court judgment in order to direct the tenant to leave the property, pay outstanding rent, late charges, attorney fees, court costs and any other charges or damages.
The Fairfax Bar Association provides information and resources for tenants and landlords as well as provides a lawyer referral service for a fee. The Virginia State Bar also provides a lawyer referral service for a fee.