‘It’s about health and safety:’ Housing advocate explains how bill could protect tenants

In just more than a month, Virginia will make some changes to its landlord-tenant laws.
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 6:23 PM EDT|Updated: May. 30, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The 2023 General Assembly session brought changes to the landlord-tenant act, including House Bill 1635, uninhabitable dwelling unit.

Delegate David Bulova of Fairfax introduced the bill. The story goes that one of his constituents came from out of state and signed a lease. When she went to the property, it was a “hole in the wall.”

Housing advocate Bismah Ahmed says he helped Del. Bulova introduce the bill.

“I worked with him to introduce a bill that provides that a tenant may terminate the rental agreement and receive a full refund of all money paid to the landlord if the tenant finds that the dwelling unit is not in a fit and habitable condition,” Ahmed said.

He says the bill was created to give tenants an option of a full refund of deposits or any rent paid if they prepare to move into a rental unit and there are health and safety issues or fire hazards.

The tenant has seven days after the start of the lease to let the landlord know about the issues and their intent to end the rental agreement.

The full text of the bill can be found below:

Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act; uninhabitable dwelling unit. Provides that a tenant may terminate the rental agreement and receive a full refund of all deposits and rent paid to the landlord if, at the beginning of the tenancy, a condition exists in the rental dwelling unit that constitutes a fire hazard or serious threat to the life, health, or safety of tenants or occupants of the premises, including an infestation of rodents or a lack of heat, hot or cold running water, electricity, or adequate sewage disposal facilities, so long as the tenant provides the landlord notice of his intent to terminate the rental agreement within seven days of the date on which possession of the dwelling unit was to have transferred to the tenant. The bill requires the landlord to provide the tenant a refund of all deposits and rent paid on or before the fifteenth business day following the day on which (i) the termination notice is delivered to the landlord or (ii) the tenant vacates the dwelling unit, whichever occurs later, unless the landlord provides to the tenant written notice of his refusal to accept the tenant’s termination of the rental agreement, along with the reasons for such refusal, within 15 business days following the date on which such termination notice was delivered to the landlord. The bill also provides that any tenant who has not taken possession or who has vacated the dwelling unit may file an action in a court of competent jurisdiction to contest the landlord’s refusal to accept the termination notice, if applicable, and for the return of any deposits and rent paid to the landlord, and allows for the prevailing party in any such action to recover reasonable attorney fees.

“You don’t have electricity, you don’t have water, you don’t have those basic necessities you expect when you are signing a lease,” Ahmed explained. “They will have the option of getting back all the money they paid and finding [a] new place to live.”

HB1635 passed in the Senate 26-14 in February and will go into law on July 1.