RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - On July first Housing Opportunities Made Equal got out of the landlord-tenant dispute business.
"We have always gotten calls from citizens about landlord-tenant issues. That's part of our top ten and it always has been," said Ph D. Evelyn Jez, of the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs.
The state's office of consumer affairs has been picking up a lot of that slack, becoming the new clearinghouse for info about resources for dealing with disputes.
"Our principle emphasis is information. We want people to know that there's a body of information that will help them manage their landlord-tenant relationship successfully," Jez said.
The central part of that body is the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. It details the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant and is actually pretty easy to read and understand. The Central Virginia Legal Aid Society has simplified that document on its website with quick answers to the questions you might ask.
"There is no rent withholding in Virginia. If you withhold your rent, that's a sure ticket to eviction," said Martin Wegbright, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.
The society says there are three basics steps for dealing with a landlord when you need something done.
"First, be current in your rent and stay current. Second, make sure that written notice is given to the landlord. Either by you or by somebody on your behalf like the building inspector. And third, wait a reasonable period of time," Wegbright said.
That might be thirty days for smaller problems or less time if you have no heater or water. Then, and only then, you go to court. If you chose to go the legal and you have all your ducks, you go to the general district courthouse where you live and file what's called a tenant's assertion. When you go, have that month's rent and the written notice you gave the landlord with you.
"You're saying to the judge - you hold on to my rent, judge or court, until we can resolve this dispute and you'll get a hearing in three weeks," said Wegbright.
Wegbright suggests you file that complaint in small claims court where lawyers are not allowed. The judge will decide who's right and what happens next.