CHARLESTON — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is urging consumers who are moving into rental properties to be informed and educated about their rights under West Virginia law.
The Attorney General’s Office says it has seen an increasing number of consumer complaints in recent weeks that focus on landlord-tenant issues. Issues range from tenants not receiving their security deposits back to unrepaired damage to the rental units.
“Students are heading back to their college towns, and that often means moving into a new apartment or house for the year,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “It’s important for each person who signs a lease for a rental property to read the terms and conditions very closely to avoid surprises and potentially head off any bad situations.”
Under West Virginia law, landlords must maintain rental housing in a fit and habitable condition from the time a tenant moves in until the tenant moves out, which includes meeting all health, fire, safety, and housing code standards. In addition, landlords are responsible for repairing the property to ensure it remains up to code.
Additionally, a 2011 law requires landlords to return security or damage deposits in full, or send a written, itemized notice detailing alleged damages to the property within 60 days after the tenant moves out. If the landlord fails to return the deposit in that time frame, tenants may file a civil suit and may be awarded judgment for the unreturned deposit plus penalties of 1.5 times that amount.
Landlords are required to provide tenants with proper written notice in advance of any attempt to evict a person from a rental property, unless the tenant has failed to pay rent or has otherwise violated the terms of the lease. Tenants cannot be forcibly evicted without first going to court.
“When signing a lease for any rental property, both landlords and tenants should make sure that their rights and responsibilities are clearly detailed in the rental agreement,” Morrisey said. “Take time to ask questions about the landlord’s policies for paying for repairs, whether the renter can modify the property, and if pets are allowed. Having a clear, upfront understanding of the rules will help to avoid trouble later on.”
To view the Office’s guide to renters’ rights, visit the Consumer Protection Brochures section of the AG’s website at www.ago.wv.gov/consumerprotection. If you have an issue with a rental property that you have not been able to resolve with the landlord directly, call the Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808 or file a complaint online at www.ago.wv.gov.
(Fred Pace is the Editor for the Coal Valley News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-369-1165, or on Twitter @fcpace62)