Under Virginia law, a Landlord has an obligation to maintain a residential rental property in a habitable and sanitary condition, regardless of any language in the residential lease shifting maintenance responsibilities to the Tenant.
It is generally true that a Tenant cannot unilaterally withhold rent in Virginia because of unsafe of unhealthy property conditions unless allowed by the terms of a Lease. However, proper notice to the Landlord and the timely filing of a lawsuit can be a very effective means to compel the Landlord to fix the unsafe condition or permit the Tenant to terminate the Lease early without penalty.
If any of these conditions exists, the Tenant should take immediate action to preserve his or her rights. But, under Virginia law, a Tenant may not immediately withhold rent until giving the Landlord an opportunity to correct the condition. The notice may be given either in writing or by reporting the condition to an appropriate state or municipal agency. The agency will then give the Landlord a violation or condemnation notice. Virginia law presumes that “a period in excess of thirty days from receipt of the notification by the landlord is unreasonable.” Va. Code §§ 55-225.12(B)(1) and 55-248.27(B)(1).
After the Landlord has failed to reasonably remedy the condition after proper notice, the Tenant may elect to withhold all or part of the rent by filing a Tenant’s Assertion and Complaint and depositing the rent due into an “escrow account” with the General District Court in the location where the property is located. If the General District Court finds that the condition exists and the Landlord has unreasonably delayed in fixing the condition, the Court may order:
If the Court does find the condition exists, Virginia law presumes the Tenant is entitled to some reduction of rent. The Landlord can dispute the rent reduction.
The above is an outline highlighting some of the steps in the process of withholding rent. If you are in a landlord/tenant dispute or may need to file a Tenant’s Assertion and Complaint, please contact Caulkins & Bruce, PC () for a case evaluation and consultation.
The information presented here should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.
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