Friday, June 13, 2008

Common Commercial Landlord/Tenant Questions

As part of Gross & Romanick’s Commercial Landlord practice area, the firm gets a lot of commonly asked questions from both landlords and tenants. Here are the three most commonly asked questions and the firm’s answers. If you’d like legal counsel for your commercial landlord case, please contact the firm immediately for assistance.

QUESTION: Can a landlord just lock the door if a tenant does not pay the rent?

ANSWER: In a commercial landlord/tenant situation, the right of self-help does exist in Virginia. Because there are serious constraints and risks, a self-help eviction should never be attempted without the assistance and approval of an attorney. Some of the constraints include the terms of the lease, breach of peace and bankruptcy.

QUESTION: Can a landlord require payment by the tenant of its attorney's fees, even if a lawsuit is not filed?

ANSWER: The Lease and other written agreements between the landlord and tenant will decide this issue. A very carefully crafted lease provision allowing attorney's fees, even when suit is not filed, must be signed by the tenant. In fact, insufficient attention is being paid to the attorney fee provisions of many leases, causing many landlords to lose these fees when they are forced to file litigation and defend countersuits.

QUESTION: Can a landlord sue for rent at the same time it seeks possession of the premises?

ANSWER: Yes. A landlord, except in very rare circumstances, should include a suit for monetary damages at that same time that it files for eviction. The General District Court, which normally can only enter judgment up to $15,000, can enter a judgment for any amount of money so long as possession of the property is at issue in the same proceeding.