Virginia Poverty Law Center

Disputing What You Owe Your Landlord

If your landlord has started an eviction case in court, you can dispute what they say you owe. Even if the judge says they can evict you, you might end up owing less money.

How to prepare for court

Before court, identify exactly which of your landlord’s charges are wrong. Gather and compare key records.

  1. Ask your landlord for their record of what they have charged and what you have paid. This is called the tenant ledger. Read it carefully.
  2. Get your bank records or rent receipts showing what you paid.
  3. Read your lease to see if it says you have to pay all the kinds of charges that are on your ledger. If the lease doesn’t say you owe it, they can’t charge you.
  4. Check if they are charging a late fee higher than the law allows. It can be up to 10% of your monthly rent amount or 10% of the amount that is late, whichever is less.
  5. Check the court papers to see how much the landlord is asking the judge to give them. Read all the dollar amounts in the “Claim and Affidavit” section of the Summons for Unlawful Detainer.
    • If another month of rent and late fees is due before the court date, your landlord will usually add that to what they ask the court to give them.

Bring proof to court

Bring three copies of any papers that show what’s wrong with the landlord’s charges. Receipts, bank records, your tenant ledger, and the lease can all help make your point.

What to do in court

At the start of the hearing, the judge will probably ask you if you owe what your landlord says you do.

  • First, do not admit that you owe anything.
  • Instead, tell the judge you dispute the landlord’s claim and you have proof to show.
  • Tell the judge you want “a trial with pleadings.”
  • You can also print this form to take to court and give to the judge, asking for a trial with pleadings.

If the judge gives you a trial, you will have the chance to come back to court, show your evidence, and explain your case. The judge might want to see your proof at the first hearing, instead.

Challenging attorney fees

Landlords sometimes try to make you pay attorney fees that are too high. Check the “Claim and Affidavit” section of your Summons to see if the landlord is asking for attorney fees and how much.

  • You can ask the judge not to make you pay any attorney fees
  • You can ask to limit them to $200-$300 if the judge is going to make you pay some

Use our Guide to Challenging Attorney Fees if you want to do that. 

Keep in mind

  • Compare the tenant ledger, your receipts and records, the lease, and the law to see if your landlord is charging you too much.
  • Prepare to show the judge why you think the landlord is asking for too much.

You may want to talk to a lawyer for specific advice. Contact your local Legal Aid office to see if you qualify for free help.

Take action

Learn what you can do to try to stay in your home and avoid eviction.

Fight my eviction

Sometimes, you can't avoid eviction if your landlord wants you out. But it is always good to learn how the law can protect you and what you can do about your situation.