Virginia requires all state agencies and local government entities to provide copies of existing records. It only applies to existing records; they are not required to do analysis or create new reports. Agencies must reply to FOIA requests within 5 days, starting the day after your request, although they can request an extension of one additional week. Additionally, an agency could file a petition to court if records request are of reasonable size and will take the organization time that surpasses that window. FOIA does not apply to the legislative and judicial branches of Virginia’s government. It specifically does not apply to the Virginia Parole Board (Va. Code §2.2-3703).
Making A FOIA Request
All requests for records, whether it be phone, mail, or email, are regulated by FOIA. However, we recommend making written requests and citing FOIA by name and number. It is important that you be specific and precise in your information requests, as vague requests may be denied. Since you can be charged for the time they spend looking for the information, you may want to provide additional information that may help them find the information, such as the approximate date the document you are seeking was created.
Examples of FOIA requests https://www.nfoic.org/virginia-sample-foia-request
Costs of FOIA Requests
If you don’t ask for an estimated cost, you may be surprised to receive a bill along with the records you requested. Information providers may charge for their time spent finding and reviewing the information you request. They can also charge for printing and mailing costs, so we recommend you request the information electronically. We have found that agencies which are eager to serve the public often waive these fees entirely, whereas agencies that are not eager to provide data will charge more. If the bill is under $200, information providers are not required to provide a cost estimate. If you do not pay the fees for FOIA requests within 30 days, then your future FOIA requests can be denied.
See more information on Virginia FOIA charges from the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.
Sample Virginia FOIA Request Template
To Whom It May Concern:
Pursuant to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, I hereby request the following records:
- [Bullet list of records]
The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.
In the event that there are fees [optionally: beyond $XX], I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.
If you have any questions concerning this request, I may be reached during normal business hours at [phone number].
Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 5 business days, as the statute requires.
[Full address of Virginia residence]
[Date of request]
Assistance with FOIA
- Virginia Coalition for Open Government
- Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council
- Cause of Action Institute
- Judicial Watch
- Knight FOI Litigation Fund
- Roberts Law
- Best, E. (2018, July 17). FOI processing manuals, lists and instructions (Fairfax County Police Department). Retrieved from https://www.muckrock.com/foi/fairfax-county-138/foi-processing-manuals-lists-and-instructions-fairfax-county-police-department-58227/
- Carmichael, W. (2006). Law Enforcement Guide to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (3rd ed.). Richmond, VA: Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. https://web.archive.org/web/20170504111032/http://www.vachiefs.org/images/uploads/docs/FOIA_Book_2006-web.pdf
- FOI Citizens’ Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.opengovva.org/virginias-foia-resources
- Virginia Freedom of Information Act. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.dhrm.virginia.gov/virginia-freedom-of-information-act
- Local Government Attorneys of Virginia, Inc., & UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. (2018). Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Guide – 2018. Retrieved from https://vig.coopercenter.org/publication/foia2018
- Miller, S. R. (2015). Use and Enforcement of Records Demands Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Virginia Lawyer, 63, 16-19. https://www.vsb.org/docs/valawyermagazine/vl0215-records-foia.pdf
- MuckRock Virginia, LLC. (2018, July 16). FOI processing manuals, lists and instructions (Virginia State Police). Retrieved from https://www.muckrock.com/foi/virginia-128/foi-processing-manuals-lists-and-instructions-virginia-state-police-58231/
- Office of Information Policy (OIP). (n.d.). Freedom of Information Act. Retrieved from https://www.foia.gov/
- Powell, D. (2018). Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Virginia Conflict of Interest Act and the Virginia Public Records Act 2017-2018 Edition Guide for Local Government Leaders. Virginia Municipal League. https://www.vml.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/17-18_FOIA-COIA-PubRecords1.pdf
- Virginia Coalition for Open Government. (n.d.). FOI Citizens’ Guide. Retrieved from https://www.opengovva.org/virginias-foia-resources
- Virginia FOIA Laws. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.nfoic.org/coalitions/state-foi-resources/virginia-foia-laws
- Virginia Press Association. (2017). The Freedom of Information Act in Virginia: A reporter’s guide. Glen Allen, VA: Author.
- Virginia Public Records Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.muckrock.com/place/united-states-of-america/virginia/
- Virginia Sample FOIA Request. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.nfoic.org/virginia-sample-foia-request