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Do I Need A Written Lease?

landlord tenant law

Being a landlord is tricky. Being a landlord with a property in a Condominium, Homeowner’s, or Property Owners Association is even trickier. Why? Because there are lots of rules that govern what you can and can’t do with your property and your tenants. 

Let’s start by looking at the general rules governing how to be a landlord in Virginia. 

Did you know that if you rent your residential property, the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act or VRLTA, Virginia Code Section 55.1, applies to you? 

Well, it does. 

Every rental. 


Every rental? 

Yup. Every. Rental. 

This means your short-term rental (think Airbnb and VRBO) is also covered.

Under the VRLTA, you MUST offer your tenant a written lease. If you don’t, the “default” terms of the VRLTA automatically apply. I shouldn’t have to tell you that you don’t want the government writing your contracts. But, if you do, those default provisions include, that the lease is for 12 months which does not renew, rent is payable in 12 monthly installments on the 1st of the month, rent is late on the 5th of the month, a “reasonable” late fee can be charged and the security deposit cannot be more than two months’ rent. A local business lawyer can help you create a lease that can best protect your rights and your property.

The VRLTA is designed to protect the tenant.

It dictates what the Landlord must do and gives the tenant up to 4 (FOUR!) opportunities to pay rent (not including the extra protections put in place under the COVID-specific regulations). Your tenant can also sue you for wrongful exclusion from the property, interruption of essential services (think utilities) and unfit conditions in the greater amount of their actual losses, $5,000, or four months’ rent, and reasonable attorney fees! Yikes! Oh, by the way, the landlords don’t get their attorney’s fees under the VRLTA. 

While you can’t ask the Tenant to give up any of these protections, you can ensure your interests as the landlord are also protected in a written lease. Do you remember how I said the VRLTA sets a “reasonable” late fee? Well, what is reasonable? Without specifying one, you’re left to a later decision by a judge. Or you could agree in your written lease that it’s $50 per month. Do you want a lease that automatically renews? You can only do that in a written lease. Is the tenant going to be responsible for some of the maintenance of the property? Same thing. Want to recover legal fees? You need that in your lease. Get the point? 

The landlord needs a written lease to protect its interests.

The issues you need to cover in a written agreement get even more complicated when you take into account the second factor – your Condominium, Homeowners’ or Property Owners’ Associations’ requirements. Our Covenants and Bylaws (the rules that govern how we interact and what we can do) require certain things from owners and our renters. 

Under your governing documents, your renters might need to register with the office. 

Did you know YOU , their landlord, can be held liable for (meaning have to pay for) any damage your renters do to association property?

Yup. You can be. 

So….if your tenants vandalize the tennis court you could be paying for those repairs. Your written lease also can help you in at least two ways. First, your lease should say that a violation of the Association rules or destruction of its policies is a breach (violation) of the lease allowing you to evict the bad acting tenant. Second, the tenant should be required to defend, hold you harmless and indemnify you from (protect and pay for) any money you have to pay including those pesky and expensive lawyers because of their bad conduct. 

Even if your tenants aren’t behaving badly, having a written lease can protect you from unfortunate events. Having a written lease can help you establish that your rental property wasn’t vacant when the pipes froze and burst supporting an insurance claim for the damage. 

If you have questions about written leases or any other Landlord-tenant matters or would like assistance with any other business matter, please contact Nancy at N D Greene PC right here.

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