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Habitability Laws for Rental Properties in Virginia

Understanding the habitability laws that govern rental properties is crucial for both landlords and tenants. These laws help establish baseline conditions that a residential unit needs to meet in order to ensure safety and well-being. In Virginia, like many jurisdictions, these laws encompass several aspects of living conditions, ranging from a property’s structural integrity to essential maintenance provisions.

This article explores Virginia’s habitability laws, shedding light on both landlord responsibilities and tenant obligations to maintain a mutually beneficial and compliant living environment.

What Are Habitability Laws?

Habitability laws refer to the legal standards that cover the minimum requirements a residential rental property has to meet. These standards ensure that the unit is safe, sanitary, and fit for human habitation. These laws can vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to the next, but in general, they’re designed to protect tenants from having to live in substandard conditions. 

It’s essential for landlords to be aware of habitability law requirements so that they can ensure their properties are constantly kept compliant. 

Some of the key components that these laws cover include:

  • Safe and Sanitary Living Conditions: ensuring that the unit and common areas are both clean and safe
  • Landlord Services: ensuring that essential utilities remain in working order
  • Compliance with Building Codes: ensuring that all units are up to date with the area’s building requirements
  • Repairs: ensuring that necessary repairs are made promptly
  • Notice and Access: ensuring that the tenants have the right to privacy

What is an Implied Warranty of Habitability?

In Virginia, and most other US states, an implied warranty of habitability is a guarantee that a rental unit meets the basic living and safety standards set by the state’s habitability laws. This unstated guarantee covers both the time a tenant moves into a unit and the duration of their tenancy. Landlords are held to this standard by law, whether the details of the implied warranty of habitability are listed in the lease agreement or not. 

Landlord Responsibilities

All Virginia landlords are required to ensure that the units or properties they rent are compliant with the state’s habitability laws. This is true regardless of whether the landlord or property is covered by the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. It’s a standard that all landlords must meet.

Landlord responsibilities under Virginia’s habitability laws include (but are not limited to) the following duties:

  • Prevention or removal of pest or rodent infestations
  • Maintenance of property so that the accumulation of moisture or development of mold is prevented
  • Cleaning of rental common areas so that they’re safe and structurally sound
  • Making all necessary repairs to rental units so that they remain safe and habitable
  • Complying with all building and housing codes in the landlord’s jurisdiction
  • Supplying hot water
  • Supplying air conditioning and heat (unless the tenant controls these utilities, or unless these utilities are supplied to the tenant directly from the utility company on a separate meter)
  • Ensuring that electricity, plumbing, sanitation, ventilation, and other facilities remain in good working order
  • Installing and maintaining carbon monoxide and smoke detectors
  • Providing working restroom facilities
  • Providing and maintaining disposal/trash receptacles
  • Providing door and window locks in units to protect tenants from criminal invasion

In some situations, tenants and landlords may agree in writing that the tenant can perform some of the landlord’s duties. Duties that tenants can reasonably accept responsibility for include cleaning common areas, removing trash and providing trash receptacles, providing water, and providing air conditioning or heating. 

Landlords are not allowed to shift duties that involve building codes over to tenants, and any writing that attempts to shift duties to tenants that aren’t permitted by law cannot be enforced. As such, it’s important for landlords to be aware of the duties that can and can’t be passed to tenants.

Tenant Responsibilities

Tenants also have responsibilities when it comes to maintaining the units they reside in. Again, regardless of whether a property is covered by the VRTLA, all residential tenants need to abide by certain rules. These rules include:

  • Keeping the rental unit free from pests or insects, and notifying the landlord once any pests are noticed
  • Keeping the rental space and utilities as clean and safe as possible
  • Using all of the unit’s utilities and appliances reasonably
  • Taking care to remove trash from the unit
  • Not damaging or destroying the property, whether intentionally or due to neglect
  • Not disturbing or harassing neighbors
  • Following the rules covered in the lease agreement
  • Paying rent on time

Violation of Habitability Laws

It’s incredibly important for landlords to remain compliant with Virginia’s habitability laws, as violations can lead to several unpleasant outcomes. If a tenant notifies his or her landlord of a habitability issue regarding their unit, and the landlord fails to remedy the situation, the tenant is then permitted to file a Tenant’s Assertion in court no less than five days after their rent is due.

In some situations, if a landlord fails to address a habitability issue within 14 days of receiving a written notice from the tenant, the tenant may be permitted to reach out to a contractor. In doing so, the tenant can have the independent contractor repair the issue if the cost is no more than $1,500 or one month’s rent (whichever is higher). From there, the tenant can deduct this payment from their rent and send the landlord the receipt as well as any remaining rent he or she may owe for the month.

In other situations, a tenant has the right to terminate their lease if they find habitability issues that exist within the unit, such as infestations, lack of running water, no electricity, or improperly working sewage utilities. When this occurs, the tenant needs to provide the landlord with notice within 7 days of beginning the lease. The landlord must then return any rent or deposits paid within 15 days of receiving the tenant’s notice.

A clear understanding of Virginia’s habitability laws is vital for fostering a healthy landlord-tenant relationship. These laws set forth standards for safe, sanitary, and habitable living conditions. Adhering to these laws not only ensures a harmonious living environment but also prevents potential legal issues from arising. If you’re a Virginia landlord, it’s essential to get informed about the role you play in upholding these laws.

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