Although not mandated by law, most landlords require tenants to pay a security deposit as part of the move-in costs. 

In Virginia, if a landlord asks for a security deposit, by law,  they cannot charge for more than two months. So if the monthly rent is $1,500, then you must not charge a deposit exceeding $3,000. 

That said, sometimes this deposit may not be able to cover unpaid rent and damages after the tenant has left. So, if you find yourself in this situation, what options will you have? In this article, we at Keyrenter Hampton Roads will go over the basics of what to do if this happens.

Notify Tenants if the Deposit Doesn’t Cover Unpaid Rent

As a landlord in Virginia, you have the right to withhold a tenant’s deposit for certain reasons. Such reasons include nonpayment of rent, violation of the lease terms, and damage exceeding normal wear and tear. 

When making deductions, you must have an itemized list of them, stating the amount you’re withholding and why. Then, you must send the itemized deductions and the remaining portion of the deposit to the tenant within 45 days. 

If the deductions are larger than the deposit, it means that the tenant owes you the difference. In such a case, you might want to send the tenant a demand letter for the remaining amount. 

person using a quill pen to sign a letter

Send a Demand Letter to the Tenant

A demand letter is a formal document usually used to demand a missing payment. You can use the letter to ask for any money the tenant owes you. Including, the cost of fixing damages, cleaning fees, and unpaid rent.

Be specific in the letter so the tenant knows what they own and when they need to pay you back by. Include a phone number to allow the tenant to easily communicate with you should they have an issue. 

Consider Going to Court

If the tenant ignores the demand letter, consider going to a small claims court. That said, the following are a few things you may want to consider before heading to court:

The Legal Process is Time-consuming

If you choose this route, there are a number of things you’ll need to prepare to maximize your chances of success. Including organizing your evidence, researching the process, and attending the hearing. You’ll also have to pay a filing fee for the eviction proceedings to begin. 

Tenants May Not have the Money to Pay for Damages

Even with a successful ruling on your side, it may not mean you’ll get paid. It’s possible that the tenant may not have the financial standing to pay off their debts. In such a case, you’ll need to wait until the tenant can afford the payment.

person holding a bunch of cash fanned out

You May Lack Proper Documentation

You’ll need to prepare your evidence properly prior to the hearing. Without it, the chances of winning the case will be slim. Some of the documents you’ll need to have included a copy of the agreement, before-and-after photos of the property, and an itemized list of deductions. There is a chance for a countersuit. There is also a possibility of the tenant suing you. 

Inspect the Property Regularly

As a landlord, it’s always important to regularly inspect the condition of your property. This will help you take note of any telltale signs of damage. You may be able to note things like wall damage, pet stains, odors, and other types of damage. And by addressing these issues quickly, you’ll be able to stop further damage occurring to your property. 

What’s more, rental inspections can help you check whether or not the tenant is abiding by the terms of the agreement. For instance, during the inspections, you may be able to know whether a tenant is illegally subletting the unit. As you probably know, the more people there are, the more damage a property faces. 

While inspections are critical to protecting your property, the privacy of your tenant is vital, too. In Virginia, you must always provide your tenant with a notice of at least 72 hours prior to entering their rented premises. Preferably, include this information on the lease agreement to minimize potential misunderstandings or conflicts. Then, once you’re done with the inspection, let the tenant know of your findings. 

property inspector holding a checklist on a clipboard 

Conduct a Walk-through Inspection of the Property

A walk-through inspection is a special type of rental inspection. Some states have laws requiring it whereas others don’t. In the state of Virginia, landlords have a right to conduct a walk-through inspection before a tenant can vacate the unit at the end of their lease. 

There are a few things that you will need to keep in mind when conducting this type of inspection:

  • You must notify the tenant 5 days in advance that you intend to have a walk-through inspection of their rented premises. 
  • The tenant must respond in writing if they wish to attend it. 
  • You must let the tenant know of the date and time of the inspection at least 3 days before the actual inspection date. 
  • You must prepare an itemized list and send it to the tenant if you come across any excessive property damage.

After sending them the itemized list, the tenant will have time to make the repairs before moving out. However, if they choose to leave without making the repairs, then you’ll have a right to make appropriate deductions to their security deposit. 

Bottom Line

You have several options available to you if your tenant’s security deposit doesn’t cover the cost of damages left behind when they move out. But, ultimately, to avoid issues like rental damage and unpaid rent, you need to rent to a quality tenant. Keyrenter Property Management Hampton Roads can help in this regard. 

We’re a quality property management company dedicated to protecting your investment properties. Get in touch with us today to get started!