Tenant - Landlord Rights & Responsibilities

Signing a Tenancy Agreement

The Housing Division provides information about the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords to assist with resolution of tenant-landlord disputes. These documents outline the laws governing rental housing and provide information about different aspects of the rental process.

Tenant-Landlord Commission 

The County’s Tenant-Landlord Commission provides information, referrals and advice for tenant-landlord issues. The Commission also advises the County Board on policies and programs related to tenants and landlords.

Educational Seminars/Workshops

These free events are open to residents and landlords and property managers who own and/or manage fewer than five residential properties in Arlington. Seminars cover a variety of different topics, which have included the nuts and bolts of landlord-tenant law, lease requirements, tenant screening, tenant rights, mediation and the Virginia Fair Housing Law. Registration is sometimes required.

Useful Documents

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the laws for tenants in Arlington?

There are two laws that govern tenant-landlord relationships: The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (VRLTA) and the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC).

The VRLTA applies to all rental properties and agreements where the landlord owns and rents a dwelling unit.

The VUSBC establishes the minimum standards for health, safety and upkeep of all dwellings, whether occupied by a tenant or owner. This code covers items such as plumbing, electric, structure, heat, hot water supply, appliances and equipment and environmental conditions, both inside and outside of the property. These codes apply to all residential properties in Arlington and are enforced by the Code Enforcement Office at 703 228-3232 or email codeenforcement@arlingtonva.us.

2. How much can a landlord require as a security deposit?

A security deposit may not exceed two months rent; however, the usual practice is one month rent. There is no limit or enforcement when VRLTA does not apply.

3. How much can a landlord raise the rent?

There is no rent control in Virginia. Therefore, there is no limit on rent increases a landlord can impose, but they must give a 30-day written notice of the increase. If a tenant objects to the new rent amount, they have the right to vacate the unit within that 30-day period.

4. When does my landlord have to return my security deposit?

Landlords must return the deposit, minus any deductions, within 45 days of the tenant vacating the unit.

5. I am owed interest on my deposit?

Landlords are not required to pay interest on the security deposit, unless stipulated in the lease agreement.

6. Can the landlord change my locks if I have not paid my rent yet?

No, the landlord is never permitted to change the locks or to put the tenant’s belongings out in the street without going through a court process first.

7. Can I break the lease?

Yes, but it will cost you money. A tenant breaking a lease is responsible for the cost of re-renting the unit and the unpaid rent until a new tenant signs a lease. Read the lease carefully to learn about the penalties for breaking a lease.

8. The apartment is flooded with water, Is the landlord responsible for damage to my property?

No, in most cases the landlord is not responsible for damage to a tenant’s property. Tenants should have renter’s insurance to cover any damages to their property.

9. Can the landlord give me a notice to vacate?

For month to month tenants, or tenants coming to the end of a rental agreement, the landlord must give at least 30-day notice to vacate on or before the first of the month ending on the last month. The landlord is not required to provide a reason, nor include an explanation for issuing this notice.

10. My landlord is trying to evict me. What are my rights?

Any tenant on a long-term lease who is being evicted must have received either a written 5-day notice of non-payment of rent, or a written 21/30-day notice of a lease violation or, in the case of month-to-month tenants, a 30-day notice informing them that they must vacate the unit. The tenant has the right to appear in court on the appointed date and dispute the claims made by the landlord. The tenant can be represented by legal counsel. After a landlord is awarded possession of the unit, the tenant, in most cases, has the right to appeal the court’s decision, provided the tenant has also appeared on the court date. However, they may be required to post a monetary bond with the court before the appeal is granted.

11. When can the landlord enter my apartment?

The landlord must give at least 24 hours notice before entering the unit, unless it is an emergency (i.e. emergency repair, fire) or otherwise impractical to do so. The state law also states that the tenant cannot “unreasonably withhold consent” for the landlord to enter.

12. Who is responsible for maintenance?

The landlord is responsible for maintenance but can charge the tenant for repair due to negligence or misuse.

13. How can I get my landlord to make repairs?

Put your request for maintenance or repairs in writing and keep a copy for your files. It is important to report a problem promptly; the landlord can charge you if there is damage to a neighboring unit. If the problem isn’t solved within 14 days, then other actions can be taken. The tenant can hire a licensed contractor to do the needed repairs and then deduct the cost of repairs from the rent. The work cannot exceed $1,500.00 or one-month’s rent whichever is higher and give the landlord an itemized detail of work done and receipts.

14. Can I withhold my rent if the landlord fails to do maintenance?

No, the VRLTA provides for a process for rent escrow, where the tenant pays the full rent to an escrow account set up by the court. Tenants must follow a court process to do so and cannot simply withhold rent money without risking eviction.

15. When is the heat to be turned on?

Building owners are legally obligated under the Virginia state (not local) building code to switch over to heat on October 15 and maintain it until May 1. This Code is set by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The County has a duty to enforce building maintenance codes in Arlington County. This is an objective responsibility, and staff does not have the discretion to waive adherence to the building code.

Air conditioning is not required. However, if it is provided by the landlord, it must be maintained in full operating condition from May 15 to October 1.

16. How can I get help to pay my rent?

The Department of Human Services has programs that help in emergency situations with limited financial assistance. They can be contacted at 703 228-1300 or email at dhs@arlingtonva.us

17. I do not think my landlord is going to return my security deposit after I move out. Can I use my security deposit as my last month’s rent?

The security deposit cannot be used for the last month’s rent.  This money is to be used only by the landlord to cover damages above normal wear and tear, any unpaid rent, fees or utilities after you move out. If the landlord does not return the deposit within 45 days, or makes deductions that seem unreasonable and both parties cannot come to an agreement, then your only recourse is to sue in court for that money.

18. I rented an apartment, but I do not have a lease. Do I have any rights?

Under the VRLTA, a 12-month nonrenewable lease agreement is in effect when there is no written lease, or until a lease agreement is signed.