The West Virginia eviction process differs from most other state eviction laws in that the landlord need not provide any kind of notice to the tenant if the eviction is for nonpayment of rent or for violation of a material provision in the rental agreement. If the landlord has suitable grounds for eviction, he or she can proceed directly to court by filing and serving a Summons and Complaint in Unlawful Detainer or a Petition for a summary eviction.
West Virginia Eviction Notice Recommended
Notwithstanding the above, it is recommended that a landlord in West Virginia give an eviction notice. The goal for you as the landlord is to get the rent money and maintain the property, not to always be in eviction court. This site provides an excellent West Virginia Notice to Quit form to maximize your chances of collecting the rent.
One thing that a landlord is prohibited by law from doing in any West Virginia eviction process is taking action to remove the tenant without a court order. This includes denying the tenant access to the property by changing the locks or intimidating the tenant, having utilities and essential services terminated, or by entering the unit and removing the tenant’s personal property. Such actions can subject the landlord to damages to the tenant for any costs incurred.
Also, a lease cannot state that the tenant waives the right to a jury trial. This is not enforceable and deprives the tenant of due process of law.
Reasons for Eviction
Most evictions are for nonpayment of rent, but a landlord can also try to evict a tenant for breach of a provision in the rental agreement that clearly sets forth what the tenant may or may not do. These include the following:
- Having unauthorized people living in the unit
- Having an unauthorized pet
- Selling, possessing or manufacturing controlled substances on the property
- Engaging in offensive conduct that affects the health and safety of other tenants
- Substantially damaging the property
- Denying access to the landlord despite reasonable and sufficient notice
- Expiration of the lease
When West Virginia Eviction Notice is Required
Written notice by the landlord is required if the lease is month-to-month or week-to-week. The landlord does not need a reason for the eviction but must provide one rental period of notice. If the lease is month-to-month, a 30-day Notice is required.
Summons and Complaint
For all other evictions where the landlord wishes to terminate the lease before its expiration for nonpayment of rent or for violation of a lease term, the landlord may dispense with any advance written notice and simply file and serve a summons and complaint. The landlord may choose an action for summary eviction or one in unlawful detainer.
This is also called a Summons and Petition for Summary Relief for Wrongful Occupation of Residential Property. The tenant will receive a notice of the date, location and time for the trial and a form for filing an Answer to the complaint and instructions for completing it.
A summary eviction action in the West Virginia eviction process is favored by landlords because it gets him or her into court in as little as 5 to 10 weekdays after service. The only drawback is that the landlord may not combine it with a request for money owed, unless the tenant defaults by not answering the complaint or by failing to appear at trial.
A tenant can ask for a continuance in a summary eviction proceeding by filing a Motion for Continuance at the Magistrate’s office, which does provide a form. The tenant must state a reasonable excuse for the delay such as another important appointment or an illness. If the motion is not granted, the tenant must file and Answer within the 5 or 10 days and appear on the trial date or be in default. The Answer can be brought to court on the day of the trial.
Complaint in Unlawful Detainer
The other action a landlord may choose in the West Virginia eviction process is the Summons and Complaint in Unlawful Detainer. In this action, a landlord can request a money judgment along with an order to evict the tenant. The tenant is still required to file an Answer within 5 days but the trial date will be much later than the 5-10 days scheduled in a summary eviction. Regular rules for the civil courts apply in these actions. Both parties will receive notice from the court of the trial date and time.
For any of these actions, the tenant must specifically request a jury trial especially if there are material issues in dispute. If no issues are dispute and the tenant loses at a jury trial, he or she could be ordered to pay the landlord’s legal fees, which could be in the thousands of dollars.
Defenses to West Virginia Eviction
A tenant has a variety of defenses to assert if facing a summary eviction or unlawful detainer action, including the following:
- No violation of the lease agreement has occurred.
- The property is not habitable or fit to live in. The tenant must have provided written notice to the landlord of the hazardous or unhealthy condition and demonstrate that the landlord failed to respond.
- It is in retaliation for the tenant having filed a complaint with a public agency or other authority.
- The landlord has breached the lease or has engaged in conduct designed to force the tenant out.
- It is for a discriminatory purpose such as the tenant’s religion, disability or national origin.
Either a summary eviction or unlawful detainer may be tried by a jury but a tenant should only request a court trial if the issues are straightforward and/or he or she does not want to hire legal counsel. Both sides are given the opportunity to offer their version of the facts and to present whatever evidence and witnesses to support their allegations or defenses.
If the tenant loses, he or she can request from the court a reasonable time to vacate.
If the tenant wishes to appeal the judgment or court order, it must be filed in Circuit Court within 20 days. The landlord may still file a new eviction action against the tenant while the appeal is pending if the lease expires or another reason for eviction is alleged. If the tenant fails to pay rent during the pendency of the appeal, the landlord can file a petition for summary eviction and have the tenant removed before the appeal is heard.