“Combo spoiler alert and disclaimer: a Virginia landlord-tenant lawyer is writing this. I know that my profession gives me a skewed view of life.
“Tenants don’t pay for an hour of my time to sit in my office and tell me their landlord is the greatest human on the planet, the rent is below-market, the house is fantastic, the lawn mows itself, and Mrs. Landlady bakes them apple pies on Sunday. I am absolutely certain that there probably are landlord-tenant relationships out there just like that one. But I never hear about those situations.”
No. I hear about the misery………
- Landlord is a cheat.
- The furnace spews noxious fumes.
- The water heater broke and the blankety-blank landlord won’t fix it.
- The toilet overflows.
- The doors don’t lock.
- The oven never did work.
- On-site property management ignores me about the roaches.
- The upstairs unit leaks water down into mine.
- There’s mold in my apartment.
- I’ve moved out and the landlord wants me to pay ##@%*&!!! for BTFSPLKING %$@#!!!
I live in a world where every landlord tries to wring 13 months’ of rent out of every 12 months in a year.
“Good news! It doesn’t have to be this way. However, as with most legal issues, there are correct ways to get things done or resolved. Because the knee-jerk, angry, on-the-spot self-help way is almost always the incorrect way, I thought I’d make a little list for those who live on the Tenant side of landlord/tenant law.”
1. Discern an important point about landlord-tenant law before you sign the lease.
Virginia has two separate bodies of landlord-tenant law: the old common law which the colonists brought with them 400 years ago, and the much newer Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act. The common law is tilted very steeply in favor of landlords. The statutory creation of the VRLTA is more evenly balanced, but still favors the landlord. If you live in a multi-unit apartment complex, the VRLTA applies automatically. As a general rule, if you rent from a landlord who rents more than two dwellings, it also applies automatically, but landlord might not know it, and you might not know it. A landlord to whom the VRLTA does not automatically apply can choose to incorporate it into the written lease agreement anyway, or can decide not to. You can negotiate to incorporate the VRLTA into a lease agreement if it doesn’t automatically apply. Clear? Because your rights and remedies (and risks) are not identical, you ought to know which body of law applies to your rental situation.
2. If you’re renting from a mom ‘n pop landlord, ask where they got the lease agreement.
Some of the junky stuff landlords download for free or cheap off the internet refer vaguely to “in accordance with state law.” Having read item (1) above, do you see that for us in Virginia, vaguely referencing “state law” in a lease agreement doesn’t necessarily clear things up? You want to know that a Virginia attorney helped landlord prepare the lease and that you know which landlord-tenant law is governing your lease agreement.
3. Read your lease before you sign it.
Any time someone hands you a piece of paper to sign, it is for them, not for you. Repeat that using your inside voice a few times. “It’s for them, not for me.” I’ve seen lease agreements that were two pages long; others that were the better part of 20 pages with all the addenda pages included. But the terms (the individual details) are always tilted in favor of landlord. It is always OK for a prospective tenant to say to his prospective landlord, “I’ll just tootle over to my attorney’s office and have her take a peek at this before I sign it.” If landlord objects to you doing that, wouldn’t it be a clear signal for you to skedaddle?”
Read the full article at vabeachlawgroup.com.