Virginia Eviction Laws: 2024 Step by Step Process & Costs

Overview of Virginia Eviction Laws and Procedures

Virginia law provides a legal process that landlords must follow in order to remove tenants who breach their lease agreement or rental contract. Landlords cannot forcibly remove or lock out tenants without first going through the proper court eviction process. 

The eviction laws and procedures in Virginia aim to balance the rights of landlords to reclaim their property and the rights of tenants to maintain housing. Evictions must follow due process and cannot be performed through self-help measures. Both landlords and tenants have specific rights and responsibilities under Virginia eviction law.

Landlords must provide proper notice before starting eviction proceedings. The notice periods and requirements differ based on the reason for eviction. Landlords must then file and serve an unlawful detainer lawsuit if the tenant fails to comply with the notice. The court oversees an eviction trial to determine if the landlord proved proper grounds for removal of the tenant. 

If the court enters judgment in favor of the landlord, a writ of possession is issued to carry out the eviction. The sheriff enforces the writ by removing the tenant after a set period of time. Throughout the process, tenants have certain rights and defenses against wrongful evictions. The eviction laws aim to give tenants a fair chance to respond and avoid removal, while also giving landlords legal recourse to reclaim their property.

Grounds for Eviction in Virginia

In Virginia, landlords can legally evict tenants for a handful of reasons outlined in state law. The most common grounds for eviction include:

Nonpayment of Rent

The most frequent cause for eviction in Virginia is when a tenant fails to pay rent on time and in full as outlined in the lease agreement. If a tenant is more than 5 days late on rent, the landlord can give a 5 day written notice to pay or vacate. If the tenant still does not pay all rent due within those 5 days, the landlord can proceed with filing for eviction.

Lease Violations

If a tenant violates any provision of the lease agreement, the landlord can give a 30 day notice to vacate. Common lease violations include having unauthorized occupants, pets, or causing noise or disturbance issues. As long as the tenant does not remedy or fix the lease violation within the 30 days, the landlord can proceed with eviction after the notice period expires.

Damage to Property

A tenant can be evicted in Virginia if they intentionally or negligently cause substantial damage or destruction to the rental property. This includes damage from lack of proper maintenance or cleanliness. The landlord must give a 30 day notice to vacate.

Criminal Activity

Landlords in Virginia have the right to evict tenants who engage in or permit criminal activity on the rental property. This includes any criminal act on or near the premises. A 30 day notice to vacate is required.

Virginia Eviction Laws Quick Reference Table

Problem Virginia Eviction Laws Say… Which Eviction Notice Templates To Use
Tenant has not paid rent. You may file an unlawful detainer after giving the tenant 5 days’ notice.
VA Code § 55.1-1245 (2022)
5-day Notice to Quit
The lease has expired or there is no lease. You may file an unlawful detainer after giving the tenant prior notice.
VA Code § 55.1-1253 (2022)
30-day Notice to Quit
Tenant has violated terms of the lease. If applicable, give the tenant notice to fix the issue within 21 days or move out within 30 days. For incurable violations, give them 30 day’s notice before filing.
VA Code § 55.1-1245 (2022)
21/30-Day Notice to Quit
30-Day Notice to Quit
Tenant is conducting illegal activity on the premises. You may immediately file an unlawful detainer. No notice required.
VA Code § 55.1-1245 (2022)
Notice to Quit - Illegal Activity

Notice Requirements for Eviction in Virginia

Before a landlord can file for eviction in Virginia, they must provide the tenant with proper written notice. The notice requirements differ depending on the reason for eviction:

Nonpayment of Rent

If the tenant has failed to pay rent on time, the landlord must provide a written 14 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate. This gives the tenant 14 calendar days to either pay the full amount of rent owed or move out of the property. 

Lease Violations

If the tenant has violated the lease or rental agreement in some way other than not paying rent, the landlord must provide a 30 Day Notice to Vacate. This gives the tenant 30 calendar days to correct the lease violation or move out of the property.

The notice must contain specific language outlined in Virginia law and inform the tenant of the amount owed or the lease violation. It must also provide details on how the tenant can remedy the issue to avoid eviction, such as paying the rent or fixing the violation. 

Proper service of the notice is also required. The landlord can have the notice served by the sheriff or a private process server. Alternatively, the landlord can send the notice through certified or registered mail. The tenant is considered served after receiving the mailed notice or being personally provided the notice by the sheriff or process server.

If the landlord does not properly serve the required notice with complete and accurate information, the eviction case can be dismissed. It is crucial for landlords to understand and closely follow the notice rules before starting the eviction process.

How Long Does an Eviction Take in Virginia?

The eviction process in Virginia can vary in length based on several factors including the reason for eviction, court schedules, and tenant responses. Here’s a breakdown of the typical timeline:

Stage Duration Description
Notice Period
Nonpayment of Rent 5 days Tenant is given 5 days to pay rent or vacate.
Lease Violations 30 days or more Tenant has 30 days or longer to remedy the violation or vacate.
Filing and Court Proceedings
Court Scheduling A few weeks after filing Court hearing is usually set within weeks of the lawsuit being filed.
Hearing and Judgment During scheduled hearing Judge reviews the case and issues a judgment for possession if valid.
Post-Judgment Process
Writ of Possession Varies Landlord requests a writ of possession; timing depends on court processing.
Execution of Writ Several days to weeks Tenant removal by law enforcement; timeline depends on their availability.

Tenant Defenses Against Eviction

Tenants in Virginia have several legal defenses they can use to avoid eviction or extend the process. The key for tenants is understanding their rights and acting promptly within the required notice period.

Fixing Lease Violations 

If a landlord issues a notice to vacate for a lease violation, tenants may be able to avoid eviction by fixing the violation within the notice period. For example, if a landlord issues a 30-day notice for having an unauthorized pet, the tenant could find a new home for the pet. As long as the tenant remedies the violation within the 30 days, the landlord would no longer have grounds to evict.

Landlord Retaliation

Virginia law prohibits landlords from evicting tenants in retaliation for certain actions like filing a complaint about housing conditions or joining a tenant union. If a landlord tries to evict immediately after a tenant takes these actions, the tenant may be able to argue the eviction is retaliatory and unlawful.

Failure to Maintain Property

Landlords in Virginia are required to maintain rental properties in habitable condition. If a landlord fails to make necessary repairs, tenants can use the poor conditions as a defense against eviction. Tenants should carefully document the housing code violations and repairs requested to build their case.

To fully understand and exercise their rights, tenants facing eviction should consult a lawyer. Legal aid organizations provide assistance to low-income tenants. A lawyer can evaluate defenses, represent the tenant in court, and negotiate with the landlord. Getting advice early in the process gives tenants the best chance of avoiding eviction.

Filing an Unlawful Detainer Action in Virginia

If the tenant fails to comply with the notice requirements, such as by not paying rent or vacating the property within the notice period, the landlord's next step is to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit against the tenant. This lawsuit is filed in the general district court in the city or county where the rental property is located. 

The unlawful detainer lawsuit notifies the tenant that the eviction process is now in court. The court will schedule an initial return date for the tenant to appear before the judge and respond to the landlord's complaint. If the tenant does not appear in court or file a written response by the return date, the judge will most likely rule in favor of the landlord by default.

If the tenant does appear in court or submit a written response, the judge will schedule a trial date. At the trial, both the landlord and the tenant will have the opportunity to present evidence and testimony in support of their case.

The Eviction Court Process in Virginia

If the tenant does not voluntarily move out after receiving proper notice from the landlord, the eviction case will proceed to trial. Both the landlord and tenant will have the opportunity to present evidence and testimony to support their case. 

The landlord carries the burden of proof and must show the judge or jury sufficient evidence that they have legal grounds for evicting the tenant. Examples of evidence the landlord may submit includes the lease agreement, documentation of unpaid rent, photographs of property damage, or witness testimony regarding lease violations.

The tenant can counter the landlord's claims by presenting evidence or arguments against the eviction. For instance, the tenant may provide proof they paid rent on time, receipts showing repairs they made, or evidence the eviction is retaliatory. 

Ultimately, the judge or jury will decide if the landlord proved by a preponderance of evidence that they have legal grounds to evict the tenant under Virginia law. If the landlord wins, the court will enter a possession judgment in their favor and issue a writ of possession. This authorizes the sheriff to forcibly remove the tenant if they fail to vacate the property within the required timeframe.

Eviction Judgments and Appeals

If the landlord wins the eviction case, the court will enter a possession judgment in favor of the landlord along with issuing a writ of possession. This authorizes the sheriff to remove the tenant from the property.  

The tenant has the option to appeal the court's eviction decision. To do so, the tenant must file an appeal notice within 10 days of the date the judgment was entered. This will pause the eviction while the appeal proceeds.

During the appeal process, the tenant typically has to pay rent into an escrow account each month, or provide an appeal bond. This covers rent payments while the appeal is pending. If the tenant wins the appeal, the escrow funds are returned.

The appeals court will review the case and make a final judgment on the eviction. The tenant has the right to appeal all the way up to the Virginia Supreme Court if necessary. Very few eviction cases reach the higher appeal courts.

If the landlord continues to win on appeal, eventually the courts will order the tenant removed from the property. The sheriff will again serve a writ of possession and carry out the eviction.

The ability to appeal an eviction judgment provides tenants the opportunity to fight the eviction and potentially have it overturned. However, the appeals process takes time and tenants normally must pay ongoing rent to avoid immediate eviction.

Carrying Out an Eviction in Virginia 

Once the court enters a possession judgment in favor of the landlord, the next step is for the sheriff to carry out the eviction. The sheriff will serve a writ of possession on the tenant, which gives the tenant 72 hours to vacate the property voluntarily along with all their belongings. If the tenant does not leave within 72 hours, the sheriff will return to the property and forcibly remove the tenant.

When the 72 hours are up after serving the writ of possession, the sheriff has the legal authority to return and physically evict the tenant. The sheriff will oversee the removal of the tenant and all their possessions from the rental unit. The sheriff may request the landlord's presence when carrying out the eviction. Any property left behind by the tenant can be reclaimed and disposed of by the landlord.

Virginia law only gives tenants 72 hours to vacate after receiving a writ of possession. Tenants who do not leave within that timeframe can be forcibly removed by the sheriff. All tenants and their belongings will be removed, and the landlord takes back possession of the property. This concludes the eviction process that was started with proper notice to the tenant.

Consequences of Eviction for Tenants

Being evicted can have lasting negative effects for tenants beyond just losing their current housing. An eviction goes on a tenant's record, making it much more difficult for them to find decent and affordable housing in the future. Landlords commonly screen tenant applicants and will reject those with recent evictions on their record. 

In addition, the eviction itself does not absolve the tenant of any financial obligations owed to the landlord. The tenant still owes any unpaid rent, late fees, property damages, and other costs that may have led to the eviction in the first place. The landlord can continue to pursue these debts even after the tenant no longer lives there.

Tenants with an eviction on their record have very limited housing options. Most landlords will not accept them. A tenant may have no choice but to accept substandard housing or temporary arrangements like living with family or friends. In some cases, evicted tenants can even become homeless.

Getting evicted can start a downward spiral for a tenant. The eviction stays on their record, they still owe money, and they struggle to find decent housing. All of this can perpetuate housing instability and financial problems. Tenants should do everything possible to avoid eviction, and landlords should only use eviction as a last resort.

FAQs About Virginia Eviction Process

What are the grounds for eviction in Virginia?

In Virginia, landlords can legally evict tenants for a handful of reasons, including:

  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Violation of the lease or rental agreement 
  • Damage to the property
  • Criminal activity
  • Refusing access to the property

The most common grounds for eviction are failing to pay rent or materially violating the lease.

How much notice does a landlord have to give for eviction in Virginia?

For evictions related to nonpayment of rent, landlords must provide a written 14 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate. This gives the tenant 14 days to pay the rent or move out.

For evictions related to lease violations or other causes, landlords must provide a 30 Day Notice to Vacate. This gives the tenant 30 days to correct the issue or move out before the landlord can file for eviction.

What are a tenant's rights in an eviction in Virginia? 

Tenants facing eviction in Virginia have the right to:

  • Proper notice before the landlord files for eviction
  • Present defenses in court like proof of rent paid or lease compliance
  • Request more time from the judge to pay rent or find new housing
  • Appeal the judge's eviction decision within 10 days

Tenants should consult a lawyer to understand their full rights.

How long does an eviction take in Virginia?

The eviction timeline in Virginia can range from 2-6 weeks depending on the situation. It takes about 2 weeks from providing notice to filing for eviction. Court proceedings add 1-4 more weeks before the tenant is removed. Fastest evictions happen when tenants fail to appear in court.

Can a tenant stop an eviction in Virginia?

Tenants can stop or prevent an eviction by:

  • Paying all rent owed within the notice period 
  • Fixing the lease violation within the notice period
  • Appealing a judgment and staying the eviction
  • Negotiating more time from the landlord 

If the landlord has filed the unlawful detainer lawsuit, the only way to stop eviction is by winning in court.

What happens after a tenant is evicted in Virginia?

Once evicted, tenants have 72 hours to vacate or they can be forcibly removed by the sheriff. Any belongings left behind can be disposed of by the landlord. The eviction goes on the tenant's record, making it very hard to find new housing. They still owe any unpaid rent and damages.

Can a landlord lock you out during eviction in Virginia?

No. Self-eviction by locking out a tenant is illegal in Virginia. Landlords must go through the court process to remove tenants. Lockouts allow tenants to sue landlords for damages.

Need Help With The Eviction Process? Eviction Services Are Available

Between the day-to-day demands of property management and the time and cost associated with eviction suits, it can help to offload things like rent collection, legal notices, and retaining counsel.

Hemlane can help you receive the rent you are owed while minimizing costly court fees. Explore our eviction services and on-demand delinquency management today.

Featured Tools
Finding and Selecting the Best Tenant
For a $2,000 monthly rental: 1. You lose $1,000 if you have your rental on the market for 15 additional days. 2. You lose $1,000+ for evictions. Learn how to quickly find and select a qualified tenant while following the law.
More Tools