Landlords often use security deposits as a way of ensuring that any damage to their property is covered at the end of the lease agreement.
Under the Virginia Code, landlords can withhold part of this deposit in order to pay for damages, late rent payments, and other specific lease violations.
The Virginia Code also lays out certain rules that dictate how landlords can handle the security deposit process.
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of security deposits in Virginia.
However, please keep in mind that cases involving security deposits are always fact specific.
Always consult with an attorney who has read your lease in full before you make any lasting decisions in a case involving security deposits.
Legal Basics of Virginia Security Deposits
The Virginia Code has an extended section that covers the laws surrounding security deposits.
To learn more about how the law relates to your specific case, you should review this section with an attorney.
However, we’ll cover the basics of this code section below.
Requirements for Landlords
There are several rules in the Virginia Code that govern how landlords can handle security deposits.
If your landlord breaks any of these rules, you may be able to regain your security deposit in a civil court case.
Specifically, a landlord must:
- Charge no more than 2 month’s rent for the security deposit.
- Either pay the deposit back to the tenant within 45 days after vacancy, or provide a list of deductions in writing within that same period.
- Notify the tenant of the preferred final inspection procedure.
When the landlord notifies the tenant of the deductions, they must do so in an itemized list.
Some examples of common reasons for a deduction include:
- Unpaid rent
- Late charges
- Repair to the dwelling, other than “normal wear and tear”
- Charges specifically detailed in the lease agreement (such as a cleaning fee)
- Unpaid utility bills
If there are any damages to the property, the notice from the landlord should list each type of damage and the cost to repair the damage.
Requirements for Tenants
There are also several rules that tenants must follow in order to retain their security deposit at the end of the lease.
Some requirements, like keeping up with rent and not causing serious damage to the property, are common sense.
Others will be specific to your situation and should be outlined in your lease agreement.
For example, a landlord may lawfully withhold your security deposit in situations where you are behind on your rent, or if you damaged the property beyond normal “wear and tear.”
Your lease might also include specific deductions your landlord is allowed to make, such as for cleaning fees or floor polishing.
If you have a disagreement with your landlord about something in your lease, you should take the lease, in its entirety, to an attorney.
Changes in Ownership
Finally, you should note that if your landlord sells the property to a new owner, that new owner must honor your original lease agreement.
This means that they need to follow the same rules regarding your security deposit that the original landlord did.
Security Deposit Disputes
If you feel that your landlord is unfairly withholding your deposit there are several steps to challenging their claim.
Step 1: Document, Document, Document
Make sure to keep copies of all rent payment receipts, late charge payments, and anything else to do with your rent.
Likewise, if you pay utilities on the property, make sure all payments are documented and up-to-date, and verify with your landlord the correct procedure for either shutting off the utilities or switching them out of your name.
Not all landlords will perform a final inspection with the tenant, and will simply send the tenant an itemized list of required cleaning and “damaged” items.
Be aware of your landlord’s procedure and, if possible, ask that the inspection be performed with you present.
It’s also wise to do a full walkthrough of your unit with a camera in order to document the state of the building both before and after you move in.
By creating a record of how the unit looked before you moved in, it becomes harder for your landlord to claim you damaged their property during your residence.
Step 2: Put Your Complaint in Writing
Once you have sufficient evidence to back up your claim, you should hire a lawyer and send your landlord a formal demand letter.
A demand letter states all the facts of your case, and dictates what the landlord legally owes you.
You should send this letter by certified mail. Make sure to keep the receipt that shows your landlord received the letter.
You should also save a copy of this letter for
However, please keep in mind that, in most cases, this letter is the nuclear option.
It shows that you’re willing to take your case to court, so your landlord will normally either return the money immediately or hire their own lawyer to fight the claim.
For this reason, you should make sure you have a solid claim before sending this demand letter.
As an added bonus, this letter provides a written record of your demands in a clear, concise manner.
If your case does go to court, this will show the judge that you made an attempt to settle the matter outside of court, which often works in your favor.
Step 3: Go to Court
If your landlord doesn’t comply with your demand letter, the next step is generally to take them to small claims court.
In Virginia, you can sue in small claims court for any amount up to $5,000.
A claim for an amount of money owed to you is called a “warrant in debt.”
These claims go before a judge, who will generally settle the matter quickly.
Before you go to court, make sure you have all your documents in order.
You should bring a copy of your demand letter, all receipts, and any personal correspondence (texts or emails) with you.
You may also want to have some pictures of the
If the judge rules in your favor, your landlord will have to pay back the security deposit they unfairly withheld.
Finally, note that you cannot bring an attorney with you to small claims court, though it may be wise to have a chat with one before you go so that you know what to expect.
The procedures for filing a case with the small claims court in Virginia are provided online.
The Virginia code states how much security deposit your landlord can demand that you pay, and when they must return your deposit after you move out.
Your landlord can withhold your security deposit to cover unpaid rent, late fees, or repairs to the dwelling.
However, they must provide an itemized list that justifies the expenses.
If you feel that your landlord has unfairly withheld your deposit, you should speak with an attorney to see if you have a case.
While you can dispute small claims by yourself, larger claims may require the assistance of an experienced lawyer.
In most cases, an attorney can quickly settle these larger disputes before they ever reach the courtroom.