Virginia Code §55-218.1 also requires every non-resident “person” who owns and leases commercial or residential properties consisting of four or more units within a county or city in Virginia to maintain a “Resident” Agent in Virginia. The Resident Agent must be a resident of Virginia and maintain an office in Virginia. “Person” is broadly defined as any individual, group of individuals, corporation, partnership, business trust, association or other legal entity, or any combination thereof. The name and office address of the Resident Agent must be filed in the office of the clerk of the court in which deeds are recorded in the county or city where the property is located.
Virginia requires the appointment of a Resident Agent in order to provide tenants with an agent and agent’s office address where service of lawsuits, notices, orders or demands can be made upon the non-resident property owner within the Commonwealth. The name and address of the Resident Agent must be stated in the lease. If a Resident Agent is not available for service, then the Secretary of the Commonwealth can be served as the statutory agent of the non-resident property owner. The Secretary will send the legal papers by registered or certified mail to the owner’s address as shown on the official tax records for the locality where the property is located.
Failing to maintain a Resident Agent can result in significant problems for the non-resident property owner. As is the case for a Virginia business entity that fails to maintain a Registered Agent in the Commonwealth, lawsuits can be served by simply mailing the paperwork to a state agency. If the subsequent mailing from the agency to the owner is not received for whatever reason, the service nevertheless remains valid, and the owner’s failure to respond to the lawsuit may result in the entry of a default judgment against the owner. These default judgments can be very difficult to set aside. Furthermore, a non-resident owner that does not designate a Resident Agent cannot maintain a legal action in Virginia, even against its own tenant.
Although the Virginia Code is not entirely clear and the requirements seem redundant, a foreign business entity that owns and leases property in Virginia should always appoint a Resident Agent and file a designation with the clerk of court for the locality where the property is located, even if the business entity is registered to transact business in Virginia and has a duly appointed Registered Agent in Virginia.
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