Frequently Asked Questions
Here you will find commonly asked questions about renting and being a tenant, ready?!
How important is it to read my lease?
Your lease is the legal contract that governs your responsibilities and rights as a tenant and the landlord’s responsibility as the property owner or manager. Before you sign a lease, you can negotiate terms of the lease that you don’t agree with. This agreement is meant to protect both the tenant and the landlord and can be enforced by the court if necessary.
It is important to have a written lease agreement. Verbal or oral lease agreements may be difficult to enforce when there is a problem or conflict during the rental. When an agreement is not in writing, it might be hard to get a tenant or landlord to keep a promise.
Go here to learn more about important information to look for in your lease agreement:
To make the best decision, get a copy of the lease a few days before you are due to sign it so you can review it with a housing specialist, family or a friend. This gives you an opportunity to ask questions to be sure you understand the terms and discuss requirements so there are no surprises on the day you sign the lease.
Once the lease is signed by the tenant and landlord, get a copy of the signed lease to keep for your records. If you have any questions about your lease terms in the future, you will be able to refer to this agreement.
How much can I be charged for an application fee?
Under the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act § 55.1-1203, an application fee is nonrefundable and cannot be more than $50.00 per applicant. If the housing unit is subject to regulation by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the nonrefundable application fee cannot be more than $32. These fees may include background, credit, or other pre-occupancy checks on the applicant by the landlord or managing agent.
Where can I go for a copy of my credit report?
- All consumers have the right to get a free copy of their credit report once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
- The only authorized site to order your free report is www.annualcreditreport.com. You can also call 877-322-8228 or download the request form to request by mail.
- The free credit report does not include a credit score. To make sure you are getting the score that lenders use, many companies are offering scores for free. Review the list available from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or contact your credit card company directly to find out if they offer free scores.
Where can I look for background screening reports?
Nationwide specialty credit reporting companies that collect tenant history information, public or criminal record information are required to provide you with a free copy of their report if you request it. You should review this report and dispute inaccurate information. More information about specialty reports is available from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. So you don’t have to request every report, ask the prospective landlord which specialty reports they use and request that report. Following are some places to check:
- Contemporary Information Corp. www.cicreports.com
- CoreLogic SafeRent http://www.corelogic.com/industry/rental-property-solutions.aspx
- Experian RentBureau Call to Request report 877-704-4519
- First Advantage Corporation Resident History Report 888-215-3727
- Leasing Desk (Real Page, Inc.) 866-934-1124
- Screening Reports http://screeningreports.com/faq.cfm 866-389-4042
- Tenant Data Services (800)228-1837 and selecting option 6
What is an Amenity or Administrative Fee and an Application or Holding fee?
- In Virginia, a landlord can charge non-refundable amenity, administrative, application or holding fees if they are disclosed in the lease agreement. Amenity or administrative fees are one-time required fees you have to pay for things like a pool, fitness center, car washing station or preparation of paperwork. There are no maximum amounts for these fees so make sure you can afford them before you sign the lease agreement.
- In Virginia, a nonrefundable application fee can be required if you want the landlord to hold a rental unit for you for a stated period and move-in date. This non-refundable application fee may also be referred to as a holding fee because the landlord holds the unit for you and agrees not to rent the unit to anyone else.
- Under the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act any landlord may require a refundable application deposit in addition to a nonrefundable application fee. If the applicant fails to rent the unit for which application was made, from the application deposit the landlord shall refund to the applicant within 20 days after the applicant’s failure to rent the unit or the landlord’s rejection of the application all sums in excess of the landlord’s actual expenses and damages together with an itemized list of such expenses and damages.
How much can a landlord ask for a security deposit?
- A security deposit can be no more than two month’s rent. For example, if your rent is $1,000 each month, the security deposit cannot exceed $2,000. This decision may be based on the tenants’ credit score, landlord references, or tenant screening reports. The landlord must use the same terms, criteria, and conditions to screen all prospective tenants.
When does the landlord have to refund my security deposit?
- If the property is covered under the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, the landlord must refund the tenant’s deposit minus deductions for any damages to the unit within 45 days after the tenant moves out. If there are damages, the landlord must provide an itemized list of any deductions and have documentation to support the actual cost the landlord pays for repairs, damages, or other expenses. If the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act does not apply to the lease agreement, the landlord is required to refund the deposit as outlined in the lease agreement. Read and understand the requirements before you sign a lease agreement.
- If the landlord makes any deductions from the security deposit during the tenancy, the landlord must notify the tenant within 30 days of the date of the deduction and provide an itemized statement.
- Before you move out, provide your landlord with your forwarding address. If you don’t, your deposit may be delayed or you might not get it at all. Keep a written record of when the landlord was notified and verify they received your forwarding address.
- So there are no surprises about deductions from the security deposit, request a move-out inspection with the landlord in writing. This inspection gives the tenant and landlord the opportunity to view the unit together and work out any problems and determine the amount of security deposit to be returned. Use the move-in inspection report prepared when you moved in to discuss what is damages or ordinary wear and tear. After the inspection, ask the landlord for a copy of the move-out inspection report. § 55.1-1226 of the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act also requires the landlord to conduct a move-out inspection within seventy-two (72) hours after you move out. If the tenant requests in writing to be present at this inspection, the landlord must notify the tenant of the date and time of the move-out inspection.
Who is responsible for utilities?
Before you sign a lease agreement, make sure your lease clearly states who is responsible for providing utilities. Utilities can be included as part of the rent, the tenant may be responsible, the landlord may be responsible or the landlord may use a third party billing company to charge the tenant. If the tenant is responsible for utilities, you need to contact each utility to get information so you can put the utility in your name before you move in.
If you are responsible for any utilities, get an estimate of the cost before you sign the lease to be sure the amount fits in with your budget. A unit that has a slightly higher rent but includes more utilities, may be more affordable than a unit where utilities are the responsibility of the tenant. If the utility payments fit in with your budget, check with each company to find out about payment options or budget billing plans so you can select the best option for you.
How much is it going to cost to set up my utilities?
- Electricity: A connection charge will be required to start your electric service. A security deposit may also be required if you do not have a satisfactory payment history within the last 12 months or you are a new customer. Based on your address, service will be provided by Dominion Virginia Power (1-866-366-4357) or the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (703-335-0500). A minimum of three days may be required to start new service. After you have established 12 months of usage at your address, consider payment options that allow you to pay a set amount each month based on your average use to reduce seasonal ups and downs. Contact Dominion Virginia Power to enroll in their budget billing program or NOVEC to enroll in the levelized billing program.
- Natural Gas Service: Gas services are provided by Washington Gas (844-927-4427) or Columbia Gas of Virginia (1-800-543-8911) based on your address. There is normally a set-up fee. You need to call for gas service 48-72 hours before you move-in.
- Sewer: Landlords handle this utility differently. For example, apartment complexes might include this in your rent while a private landlord will require you to pay the bill. Make sure your lease is clear about who is responsible for this cost.
- Trash: Based on the type of dwelling you are renting, landlords may require the tenant to pay for trash in addition to the rental payment. If trash is listed as a tenant responsibility, the landlord should let you know who provides trash collection and recycling service and provide contact information so you can set up an account and make payment arrangements.
- Water: In Fairfax County, water service is provided by Fairfax Water (703-698-5800), Town of Herndon (703-435-6814), or the Town of Vienna (703-255-6385). Tenants are required to fill out a Customer Agreement form, pay a Lien Offset Payment and get a signed Landlord Authorization form from their landlord in order to have the water and sewer account placed in their name. The lien offset payment ranges from $190-$225. Important: If a tenant receives rental assistance they can submit documentation of the assistance they receive with the form and have the fee waived. Read your lease to understand how and when the landlord will charge for water. If a landlord does not charge you for the actual usage, they must disclose in the lease the formula or methodology they use to determine your responsibility and if payment is made to the landlord or a third party billing company.
- Cable TV/Internet: Ask the landlord what cable and internet companies serve the area. Each cable company has its own policies for setting up new accounts. Typically, an adult needs to be home for a company to install service.
When are verbal agreements acceptable with my landlord?
- Verbal agreements may be unenforceable in many cases. Any agreement between the landlord and tenant should be documented and signed by both parties. Document everything in writing during the lease term and keep copies of communication by text, email, or letter. Having good records will help you when there is a dispute or when it’s time to get your security deposit back.
Is a landlord required to provide a written lease?
- Starting July 1, 2019, landlords must offer written leases
- If landlord does not do that, law sets out a specific lease that will apply.
- The lease is 12 months with no automatic renewal
- Rent is paid in 12 monthly payments
- Rent is at the fair market rent, if no amount is agreed upon
- Rent is due on the 1 st of the month and late after the 5 th of the month.
- A reasonable late fee (no more than 10%) may be charged
- The security deposit can be no more than two months’ rent
- The landlord and tenant still may enter into a written lease
Does my landlord need to provide a receipt when I pay my rent?
- Always request a receipt if you pay by cash or a money order. A landlord must provide the tenant with a written receipt when payment is made by cash or a money order if the tenant requests a receipt. If you pay by another method, you can ask your landlord to provide a receipt or request a copy of your tenant ledger. You should keep records of the date you submitted payment, the amount paid and who accepted the payment if paid in person.
- Tenants should keep their own records for the rent they’ve paid in case a dispute arises.
If my landlord tells me they completed the move-in inspection checklist, do I need to complete one on my own?
- Yes, you should get a copy of the move-in inspection so you can note things such as damage, dirt, mildew, low water pressure, slow sink drainage in the kitchen and bathrooms, the operation of appliances, the appearance of floors and walls, the condition of the carpet, floors etc. Keep a copy for yourself and provide a copy to the landlord. The purpose of a move-in inspection checklist is to give the tenant and landlord a detailed report of the condition of the rental dwelling that they agree with at the beginning of the tenancy. Throughout the tenancy, immediately notify the landlord of all repair or maintenance needs so they can be corrected or noted as the landlord’s responsibility if the problem is not due to damage or misuse by the tenant. By having a detailed inventory of the unit when you move in, it will be clear when you move out and do a move-out inspection which problems existed before you moved in so deductions won’t be taken from your security deposit you are not responsible for.
- TIP: Take pictures and send an email to the landlord to provide further documentation of any damages that existed when you moved-in. Keep this information so it can be used when it’s time to move out.
What actions can get me evicted?
Any breach of the lease agreement could be grounds for eviction. Following are common lease violations:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Unauthorized pets
- Excessive damage or changes to the premises without permission
- Illegal activity by the tenant, authorized occupants, or guests
- Holding over after the lease term has ended
- Abandonment of the premises
In cases of facing eviction please reference the Northern Virginia Eviction Prevention housing stability tool-kit: https://nvaha.org/wp-content/uploads/NVAHA-LSNV-Eviction-Prevention-Toolkit-Tenant-Supplement-9.8.20.pdf
What are the steps for the eviction process?
- The eviction process is outlined by the Sheriff’s Department at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/sheriff/eviction.htm. These steps must be followed to remove a tenant from a rental unit.
- IMPORTANT: A landlord is not allowed to change the locks, remove your belongings, or cut off utilities without a court order. If a landlord attempts to carry out an illegal eviction, a tenant should call the Fairfax County Police non-emergency number at 703-691-2131.
When do I submit my move-out notice to my landlord?
- READ YOUR LEASE. Your lease will state how much notice you must provide to terminate your lease and how and when you must give notice before the end of your lease term. Notice requirements may be 30, 60 or another number of days disclosed in the lease agreement. You can submit your notice earlier than required but not LESS THAN the time stated in your lease. If you do not have a written lease agreement, Virginia Code § 55.1-1204, § 55.1-1253 outlines how to provide notice to terminate the lease.
- Before you submit a notice, make sure you are following the requirements outlined in the lease agreement. Notice must be in writing and delivered by regular mail, hand delivery, or in electronic form. The burden is on the sender to have proof that the notice was given to the recipient. Make sure you follow up with the landlord to confirm they received your notice.
- If you have to break your lease before the end of the lease term, give your landlord as much written notice as possible and make the unit available so they can try to re-rent your unit. Your lease will outline all fees and penalties you will have to pay. This could be a substantial amount of money. However, if the landlord is able to rent the unit before the end of your lease term, you may only have to pay the amount of rent the landlord loss because you moved out early. Virginia Code § 55.1-1251, outlines a landlord’s remedies when there is an early termination of the lease agreement.
What is a co-signer/guarantor?
- When tenants have housing barriers such as no credit history, negative credit history, unstable employment, eviction, or a criminal record, a co-signer may be needed in order for them to be approved for housing. A cosigner must have good established credit and be willing to be legally responsible for paying rent, damages or cleaning and repair costs if the tenant does not. Although the co-signer doesn’t live in the apartment with the tenant, they are responsible if the tenant is unable to fulfill their responsibilities as a tenant.
How do I find out if a landlord accepts vouchers?
- Landlords and companies that own more than three units are legally prohibited from discriminating based on a persons source of funds.
- Private landlords and smaller apartment complexes (less than four units) are allowed to deny applications based on source of funds (i.e. vouchers), still many might have some flexibility about accepting rental payments from organizations. Asking a Leasing Agent or landlord if they accept payments from third-parties on behalf of tenants should tell you if the apartment complex or housing provider accepts the funding you have.
When is my rent due or considered late?
- Your lease agreement should spell out the details on when rent is due and where and how to pay it. Most lease agreements require rent to be paid monthly, usually on the first day of the month. Your lease will also identify when a late fee will be charged after the due date. For example, if rent is due on the first of the month, it is late on the second day of the month, but you may not have to pay a late fee if there is a “grace period”.
- You should always pay your rent as close to the due date as possible. This protects against any electronic or mail issues that could prevent your payment from arriving before the late fee takes effect. Making sure your rent gets to your landlord on time should be your number one priority.
- Your lease will also outline what fees will be charged after the grace period has ended. You may be liable for attorney fees and the landlord may start the eviction process. A landlord can only charge late fees disclosed in your lease.
How should I pay my rent?
- Your lease will tell you where to mail or drop off your rental payments, or if there is an online portal to pay your rent. Your lease should outline exactly who to make the check, money order, or electronic payment out to.
- It is best to pay your rent through an online apartment portal, if available, or by check or money order. NEVER PAY YOUR RENT IN CASH unless you get a receipt upon payment. Protect your receipts as you would cash.
What am I required to maintain in my rental unit?
- Most lease agreements will outline the things a tenant is responsible for during the tenancy such as items they damage or misuse, replacing batteries in a smoke detector, burnt out light bulbs or replacing furnace filters. A tenant’s maintenance responsibilities are outlined in Virginia Code § 55.1-1227 and a landlord’s maintenance responsibilities are outlined in Virginia Code § 55.1-1220, § 55.1-1221, § 55.1-1222, § 55.1-1223.
- The tenant is obligated to report any problems or issues that a landlord is required to maintain as soon as they occur. Examples of maintenance issues are backed up or continually running toilets, clogged shower drain, broken garbage disposal, leaking faucet, insect infestation, inoperable appliance, electrical problems etc.
What laws outline the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords in Virginia?
- In addition to reading and understanding your lease agreements, you should be familiar with other state and local laws that apply to lease agreements in Virginia. Following are some key laws and ordinances:
- The Virginia Residential and Landlord Tenant Act (VRLTA), establishes the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. The VRLTA applies to all single-family and multifamily residential dwelling units located in Virginia. Landlords who own no more than two single-family residential dwelling units subject to a rental agreement may opt out of the VRLTA by stating so in the rental agreement.