Virginia Poverty Law Center

If You're Forced Out without Due Process

If your landlord wants you out, they have to follow the legal process. They must go to court, get a judge’s order, and have the sheriff schedule the final eviction. If they try to force you out on their own, you have rights and can get help.

What your landlord can’t do

It is against the law for your landlord to:

  • Change the locks without a judge’s permission.
  • Shut off your light, heat, or gas without a judge’s permission.
  • Do something that makes your home unsafe, like taking off an outside door or removing locks.

These all count as unlawful exclusion, or illegal eviction. If your landlord does any of these things to make you leave, you have two options. Take action right away.

Option 1: Call the police

You can call the police while your landlord is there forcing you out. It's not guaranteed, but the police should tell your landlord to stop.

Option 2: Take your landlord to court

If your landlord forces you out, you can ask the court for help. You will need to file a case called “Tenant’s Petition for Relief from Unlawful Exclusion.” If you win, the judge can order your landlord to:

  • Let you back into your home
  • Pay you money called “damages:”
    • Either $5,000 or four months’ worth of rent, whichever is higher
    • Any money you had to spend because you couldn’t be at home, like on hotel rooms, food, or transportation
    • Attorney fees, if you hired an attorney to help you

Use this step-by-step guide to file the Petition and contact Legal Aid for help with your case right away. 

Keep in mind

  • An eviction may still be legal even if you didn't get a summons or a notice from your landlord. 
  • If you're not sure your landlord took all the right steps to evict you, court records can help you find out.

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.