Advice For Virginia Landlords: Don’t Go It Alone!
There are not many better examples of America’s do-it-yourself attitude than the notion of owning and managing a residential rental property. The housing boom of the first-half of the last decade led to many average Americans seeing “gold in them thar hills”: the magical land of rental income. Even in prosperous economic times, being a residential landlord be financially risky, to say nothing of trying to maintain a steady stream of tenants in rough times. Since the theory behind owning a rental property is extra income and not the great joy of housing others, single property residential landlords understandably attempt to save on costs wherever possible: through do-it-yourself advertising, do-it-yourself leases, do-it-yourself repairs, even do-it-yourself evictions. Landlords often find themselves spending more (or more commonly—losing more) money than they ever thought they would in the name of cost-savings. Why does anyone put him or herself through the aggravation of basically managing an entire extra household without professional assistance?
Landlords can save themselves hundreds if not thousands of dollars, and certainly a massive headache, by being willing to invest professionally in their rental property from the outset. A landlord who doesn’t want to pay a realtor a commission to assist in the tenant search, and possibly receive the benefit of a standardized Lease from that agency shouldn’t settle for lifting a lease from a simple Google search. Would you leave your children with a complete stranger? No? Then why leave the fate of your rental property in the hands of one?
Virginia landlords: hire a legal professional to draft your lease, tailoring it to your specific needs, ensuring that it conforms to Virginia contract law, and best protects you in the event of a breach of the lease by your tenant.
One item the lease should address is attorney’s fees in the event of a lease dispute. If an attorney’s fee award is not written in the contract, or not provided for in a statute, each party is responsible for his or her own attorney’s fees. Do you trust a lease written by some anonymous person on the internet to properly address this issue under Virginia law? You shouldn’t.
For an example, let’s say the landlord/tenant relationship has broken down. Rent is past due. You as a landlord want to save money, so you want to help yourself. The question is, how far can you go in attempting to either secure payment from the tenant, or evicting the tenant? Specifically, what exactly is a Summons for Unlawful Detainer, and can you simply handle this without a lawyer?
A quick Google search produces a Virginia Supreme Court form for that– so who needs an attorney now, right? But, did you know that tenants have the right to a Notice to Pay or Quit before you can file a lawsuit against them? Did you know that you must give a tenant minimum notice of a certain time period (depending on the kind of breach of lease)?
Or, did you know that there is a county-specific procedure for giving the tenant the notice? For example, if your rental property is in Fairfax County, the Notice to Pay or Quit must be served just like a lawsuit, and you can pay the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office to serve it. If you go to court in Fairfax County on a Summons for Unlawful Detainer and don’t have proof of service, a judge could throw your entire case out—putting you back at square one legally, but deeper in the hole financially. But in Stafford County, the Sheriff’s Office does not serve these kinds of Notices. So do you pay a Private Process Server? Not necessarily, because the Stafford County General District Court accepts Notices served by certified mail.
And, I won’t even attempt to address details about the actual content of the Notice in the limited space of this blog posting.
But, let’s say you successfully serve the property notice on your tenant, and comply you’re your county’s rules as to service—and successfully get your case before a judge. Do you know what a First Return Date for your hearing is? Do you know what kind of relief to ask the judge for? What evidence does the judge need?
Who makes the tenant pay back rent? Do you have the right to evict them right away? What is a writ of possession? What is an appeal by right? These issues are just the tip of the iceberg of questions that attorneys consider in handling an eviction matter.
Landlords can save themselves money and a lot of unnecessary frustration in the long term, by finding an experienced attorney to guide them through the landlord-tenant minefield from the beginning. My message to any Virginia landlord: do not be penny wise and pound foolish—seek the assistance of qualified counsel in drafting the initial lease with your tenant, and throughout any issues that may arise.
The landlord-tenant law attorneys of Livesay & Myers combine litigation skills with a reality-based understanding of landlord and tenant obligations under residential leases. Contact us to schedule your consultation with an experienced Virginia landlord-tenant lawyer today.