If a tenant believes that his or her landlord has failed to perform his duties as defined in the statutes of Virginia (i.e. the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act), or under the lease agreement itself and that failure has resulted in safety or habitability concerns so significant that continuing to pay rent under the conditions of the lease is objectionable, a Tenants Assertion may be filed in the County General District Court where the property rests. Under this process, the Tenant must first give written notice to the landlord and the landlord has no more than 30 days to correct the matter. If the landlord is not given 30 days to correct the matter (in all cases except those directly affecting health or safety) he will have a strong defense to the Tenant Assertion. Once the landlord has been given 30 days and written notice, the tenant may make a claim by filling out an online form that lays out the specific violations (available at your county general district court website
What Happens when the Tenant's Assertion is Filed?
The court clerk will ask whether the landlord has had 30 days to rectify the problem. If the landlord has failed to complete the fix or correct the situation, the court clerk will accept a completed tenant's assertion form (a $12 fee) and will establish an escrow account (a $56 fee) into which rent will be paid in the amount and at the time required under the lease agreement. The court will set a date, usually within two weeks of filing, when the landlord and you must appear to argue your position. Lawyers may be retained, or the parties may proceed on their own (called pro se). The court will consider the facts of the case and may decide to release the escrow account to the landlord, or back to the tenant, or any distribution in-between based upon the nature of the discrepancy and the degree fault assessed to the landlord.
What Happens Before Trial?
Your landlord will receive a summons from the court, that summons will contain a return date. The Return Date is the date you and the landlord will be scheduled to appear before the judge. Failure to appear may result in a default judgment against the party not appearing. EIther side may retain a lawyer. If a lawyer is retained, the lawyer will need to see the lease agreement, hear the 'story' and see any evidence that exists.
What Happens at Trial?
Both the landlord will appear on the return date. The judge will walk through the 'docket'. The docket is a list of all the different people scheduled for a hearing in that courtroom, at that time. The judge will ask the attorney's representing plaintiffs and defendants how long their case will take. Based on those answers, the judge decides which cases he or she will hear first and which will be heard later.
The judge will listen to the plaintiff's story, see evidence presented, listen to any witnesses, and take account of any damages, expenses (including attorney fees) the plaintiff may have incurred. Afterward, the judge will do the same for the landlord. Finally, the judge will issue a decision and may direct any number of things including release of the escrow account or retention of the account pending repairs.
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