West Virginia Eviction Process
November 15, 2023
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Eviction In West Virginia
If you own and rent properties in the state of West Virginia, you are responsible for complying with West Virginia law on eviction. In this article, we break down each step of the legal eviction process in West Virginia.
Eviction Process in West Virginia
- Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court.
- Court serves tenant a summons.
- Tenant files an answer.
- Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment.
- Tenant gets a specified, court-ordered period to move out.
- Sheriff returns to forcibly remove the tenant.
The West Virginia eviction process is unusually fast. This is because no prior notice is required before the landlord files for eviction in West Virginia, regardless of the cause, and eviction hearings will often be scheduled only a few days or even the day after the tenant receives a summons to court. In many cases, the tenant first learns that an eviction action has been filed against them through the summons, and they must attend court shortly after with little to no time to prepare.
Furthermore, West Virginia landlords are NOT required to provide tenants an opportunity to pay their rent or cure their violation before the case is filed. This means landlords may file for eviction immediately after a lease violation or missed rental payment without waiting for the expiration of any notice period (WV Code § 37-6-19). Note that landlords still need to provide proper notice if they do not wish to renew a lease with a tenant (seven to 90 days’ notice is required for non-renewals, depending on the length of the rental term).
1. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court
For West Virginia landlords, the first step in the eviction process is filing a verified Petition for Summary Relief (downloadable here) with either the West Virginia Magistrate or Circuit Court of the county in which the property is located. This action is also called an Unlawful Entry or Detainer action. The petition should include:
- A verification that the landlord is the owner or owner’s agent and has a right to recover possession
- A brief description of the property sufficient to identify it
- A statement that the tenant is wrongfully occupying the property and that they either defaulted on rent, breached a warranty or lease term, or deliberately or negligently damaged the property
- A description of the violation named above
- A request for a judgment for possession of the property
The landlord will be required to pay a fee to file the action in court. In magistrate court, the amount of the fee depends on the monetary amount claimed:
- For claims ≤ $500: $30
- For claims $500 ≤ $1,000: $35
- For claims $1,000 ≤ $2,000: $40
- For claims ≥ $2,000: $50
In circuit court, the fee is always $200, regardless of the monetary amount claimed (WV Code § 59-1-11(a)(1)).
The landlord also needs to request a date, time, and place for the eviction hearing. The court will fix a time for the hearing, which must be between five and ten judicial days following the request (WV Code § 55-3A-1(b)).
2. Court Serves Tenant a Summons
The next step in the West Virginia eviction process is serving the summons. Immediately after the landlord files the petition, they need to have a notice of the hearing, called a summons, served to the tenant (WV Code § 55-3A-1(c)).
Service of the summons should be made according to Rule 4 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. This means the summons must be served, together with a copy of the complaint, by any person who is not a party in the case and is at least 18 years old. Service should be made in one of the following manners:
- Personal delivery to the tenant
- Personal delivery to a member of the tenant’s family above 16 years old
- Personal delivery to the tenant’s agent or attorney
- Certified mail, return receipt requested, by the clerk of the court upon request
- First class mail, postage prepaid, together with all other materials, by the clerk of the court upon request
At the landlord’s request, the clerk of the court can also deliver the summons and complaint to the sheriff, who will serve them to the tenant for a fee. The fee for personal service by the sheriff is $25. The fee for service by certified mail is $10 for each complaint; the fee for service by first class mail is $5 for each complaint (WV Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4).
3. Tenant Files an Answer
In addition to specifying the date and time of the hearing, the summons informs the tenant that they may submit a written Answer (downloadable here) with the court within five days of receiving the notice. The tenant’s answer can state any defense they may have or other reason why they should not be evicted. The tenant is not required to submit a written answer, but if they don’t and also fail to appear at the hearing, a default judgment may be granted for the landlord’s immediate possession of the property (WV Code § 55-3A-1(c), § 55-3A-3(a)).
Additionally, either party is allowed to request a continuance, or delay, of the eviction trial. Continuances will only be granted for good cause, and if the tenant requests one, they are required to pay into court any period rent that becomes due (WC Code § 55-3A-3(d)).
Removal to Circuit Court
In certain cases when an eviction is filed in magistrate court, the tenant may request that the case be “removed” to circuit court. A tenant may make this request when they have a defense to the case and would prefer to be heard by a judge (who is a lawyer) rather than a magistrate (not a lawyer). However, the monetary judgment being claimed in the case must be at least $300. If this condition is met and the tenant’s request is approved, the case will be removed to circuit court, which will schedule a hearing to occur within seven to ten additional days (WV Legal Services).
4. Landlord and Tenant Attend Court Hearing and Receive Judgment
On the day of the eviction hearing, the landlord should bring copies of the lease agreement, the eviction notice with proof of service, the complaint, and any evidence of the lease violation. Both the landlord and tenant will present their cases and any evidence to the judge, who will afterwards issue a judgment.
If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the court will enter an order granting the landlord immediate possession of the property, in addition to any monetary relief for unpaid rent or damages.
The tenant may choose to file an appeal after the judgment is entered. If this is the case, the court will only order relief for monetary damages, not possession. The tenant is entitled to remain in possession during the pendency of the appeal, unless the lease term has otherwise expired (WV Code § 55-3A-3(g)).
5. Tenant Gets a Specified, Court-Ordered Period to Move Out
The court order will also specify the date and time by which the tenant must vacate the property. There is no specific rule stating how many days the tenant gets, but the court will attempt to set a “fair” date by taking into consideration factors that would cause the need for more time, such as needing to remove furnishings, the possibility of relative harm to the tenant, and any other material facts (WV Code § 55-3A-3(e-f)).
6. Sheriff Returns to Forcibly Remove the Tenant
In some cases, the court may involve the sheriff by default, who will go to the rental unit after the court-ordered deadline to ensure that the tenant vacates the property. In these cases, the removal of the tenant may happen immediately after the deadline. If the sheriff is not already involved, however, and the tenant remains in the unit, the landlord can return to the court to request a Writ of Possession. The writ should be taken to the sheriff’s office and gives the sheriff the authority to remove the tenant. Shortly thereafter, the sheriff will go to the rental unit to oversee the eviction process, forcibly removing the tenant if necessary and restoring possession of the property to the landlord.
If the tenant leaves behind any personal property in the rental unit after an eviction, landlords in West Virginia must follow the following rules for storing and disposing of it:
- If the property is clearly garbage or the tenant informs the landlord in writing that it is abandoned (they don’t intend to retrieve it), the landlord may dispose of the property immediately without incurring any liability or responsibility to the tenant.
- For all other property, the landlord can either:
- Remove and store the property somewhere for at least 30 days, after which it can be disposed of without incurring liability. However, one of the following conditions must be met: 1) the tenant has not paid the reasonable costs of storage and removal and has not already taken possession of the stored property, OR 2) the costs of storage equal the value of the property.
- Leave the belongings on the rental property for at least 30 days. After the 30 days, the landlord may dispose of it without liability if the tenant has not returned to reclaim it or paid the reasonable costs of leaving it on the property.
Additionally, if the personal property is worth more than $300 and the tenant has not reclaimed it yet but informs the landlord of their intent to claim it, the landlord must store the property for up to 30 additional days. The tenant is still responsible for reasonable costs of storage and removal (WV Code § 55-3A-3(i)).
Evicting a Squatter in West Virginia
A squatter is a person who moves into a vacant or abandoned property without getting permission from the owner or paying rent. Squatters can usually be charged as criminal trespassers and be evicted like any other tenant. However, some squatters can receive the right to possession by meeting certain state-determined criteria. In West Virginia, squatters must have occupied the property for ten continuous years to invoke West Virginia squatters rights and claim right of possession (WV Code § 55-2-1). Their possession must also be:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease with the owner
- Actual—The squatter must be actively residing on the property
- Open and Notorious—The squatter is openly and obviously living there.
- Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else.
- Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession.
While relatively rare, if a squatter meets all these criteria, they have “color of title”: the right of legal ownership without having a written deed to the property. They can file an action for adverse possession in West Virginia to legally obtain the title to the property. However, in most cases, a squatter will not meet the criteria and can be removed. If you think a squatter is living in your vacant property in West Virginia, you should:
- Call local law enforcement.
- Determine whether the person is a trespasser or a squatter.
- If the person is a trespasser, they can be removed immediately by a police officer.
- If the person is a squatter, you must contact the sheriff’s office.
- Send the squatter a notice following West Virginia law.
- If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the notice period, file for eviction and follow the typical eviction process in West Virginia.
- Only the sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. You cannot do so, and neither can a police officer.
West Virginia Eviction Cost Estimates
This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of a West Virginia eviction, according to civil procedure in the state and iPropertyManagement. A highly accurate estimate of the cost of a West Virginia eviction is impossible to provide, as cases and circumstances vary so widely. Remember to factor in other losses due to an eviction as well, such as lost rent, time, and stress.
|Action||Approximate Cost (Magistrate)||Approximate Cost (Circuit)|
|Filing fee||For claims ≤ $500: $30 For claims $500 ≤ $1,000: $35 For claims $1,000 ≤ $2,000: $40 For claims ≥ $2,000: $50||$200|
|Service of court summons by sheriff||$25||$25|
|Service of writ of possession||$25||$25|
|Notice of appeal filing fee (to circuit court)||$200||n/a|
|Average locksmith fees||$160||$160|
|Storage fees for abandoned property||Varies||Varies|
|Tenant turnover costs||Varies||Varies|
West Virginia Eviction Time Estimates
The chart below shows an estimate of the duration of each part of the West Virginia eviction process timeline. Keep in mind that the length of eviction cases varies widely depending on the complexity of the eviction, the court’s current caseload, and whether or not the tenant contests or appeals the lawsuit.
|Eviction notice period||None|
|Issuance/service of summons||Immediately after case is filed|
|Tenant response period||5 days|
|Eviction hearing||5-10 judicial days after the filing date, plus 7-10 additional days if removed to Circuit Court|
|Time to quit after judgment||Court-determined|
|Storage period||30 days|
|Total||A week to a few months|
- Petition for Summary Relief—Wrongful Occupation of Residential Rental Property
- Answer: Wrongful Occupation of Residential Rental Property or Factory Built Home-Site
- Information for Tenants About Evictions and the Court Process – This booklet for tenants describes the West Virginia eviction process in plain language.
- West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure – The specific rules of civil procedure and court policies, which apply to the eviction process in West Virginia.
The eviction process in any state can be long and complex, so hiring an eviction attorney is advised in most cases. It’s also important to note that municipalities and local governments often have stricter laws and requirements for landlords, so be sure to check local statutes as well as state ones. However, by reviewing the legal procedures and West Virginia laws on eviction, you can feel more confident pursuing an eviction in this state.
Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information.