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Steps to Take When Your Tenant Stops Paying Rent

Sometimes you run into the situation where your tenant can’t pay their rent. Should this happen, there are certain steps you are legally bound to take. Getting responsible tenants in the first place can help you avoid this situation altogether. (Read: How Do I Choose The Right Tenants? for guidance.) However, if it’s too late for that, here’s what’s next.

We are not attorneys and this is not legal advice. These steps are just general education on evictions. We recommend you consult an attorney for questions about your particular situation.

1. Send a Five-Day Pay or Quit Notice

If your tenant fails to pay their rent when due, or after the grace period (if one is stated in your lease), you must give them a written Five-Day Pay or Quit Notice. (See Virginia Codes §§ 55-225 and 55-248.31. This notice gives your tenant the option to either pay their rent or move out within five days. To ensure the notice is valid, it must be:

  • Written (electronic or paper form, following the method(s) described in the lease)
  • Confirmed to have been seen and received by your tenant

Both points, under Virginia Code § 55-248.6, must be met to be considered valid.

The following must be included in the notice:

  • The date the notice was served to the tenant
  • Tenant’s name(s), telephone(s), and address
  • Your name, telephone, and address
  • Reason for the notice (failure to pay rent on time)
  • Total rent due and date(s) they were due
  • Statement that they have five days to pay the amount due or move out or that you will begin the eviction process
  • Court and Attorney costs, if any
  • Your signature

Should your tenant fail to move out or pay their rent within five days of receiving the notice, you may move onto the next step. If the tenant does pay the rent within five days, they hold the right to remain on the property.

2. File a Summons for Unlawful Detainer

If your tenant fails to comply with the notice, you must go to the General District Court and file a Summons for Unlawful Detainer, which is a civil claim for eviction. Proof of your Pay or Quit notice must be submitted to the court, after which a hearing will be set within 30 days. Details are in the Virginia Code § 8.01-126.

Before the court hearing, your tenant may pay all rent and any other costs due to dismiss the summons, under Virginia Code § 55-248.34:1. This right can only be exercised once every 12 months they continue to live on your property.

If they do not pay all costs prior to and attend the hearing, the tenant has the opportunity to admit or deny the allegations. If the tenant admits to your claims or fails to appear, you may ask for an immediate Writ of Possession. If they deny, a trial will be set. The judge may ask you to provide a Bill of Particulars to argue your case and ask the tenant for a Grounds of Defense.

3. Trial

If a trial had been set due to a denial from the tenant, the judge will decide based on both your claims and your tenant’s. If the court rules in your favor, the tenant is granted a 10-day appeal period.

After the appeal period is over, and you win the appeal, you may file a Writ of Possession.

4. Writ of Possession

The Writ of Possession in Unlawful Detainer is a court order authorizing the Sheriff to physically remove the tenant and their belongings from the property. This must be filed within one year after the judgment was made, and once it’s received by the Sheriff’s office, it should be executed within 30 days. You will be contacted once the date and time are decided, and the tenant will be given a 72-hour notice before the scheduled eviction.

Details can be seen in the Virginia Code § 8.01-470.

5. Eviction

After all these steps have been followed, next comes the actual eviction. You can find the steps for evictions in our article, What if I Need To Evict A Tenant?

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