Landlord-Tenant Basics Part II: Summary Ejectment

Clients often want to know what they can do to evict tenants from property that they own and lease for business or residential use.  Unfortunately, property owners will likely face an eviction at some point.

Eviction actions are known as “summary ejectments.”  The law on summary ejectments is a bit different from other areas of the law, as the procedure is designed to be streamlined, fast, and convenient for pro se litigants.  The law recognizes that for property owners who rent their units, profit is everything and they cannot afford to waste time with a nonpaying or destructive tenant.

When Can I Evict a Troublesome Tenant?

The law sets out three grounds for evicting a tenant: 1) The tenant has held over after his lease term has expired and the landlord has made a demand to the tenant to surrender the property; 2) the tenant has breached a condition listed in the lease agreement; or 3) the tenant has not been paying rent.

How do I do it?

Summary ejectments are routinely handled in small claims court, where cases are heard by a magistrate judge.  Typically, the magistrate will make a ruling on the spot rather than taking the matter under advisement.  The judgment will take one of three forms: 1) a judgment for possession of the premises, 2) a money judgment for unpaid rent, or 3) a judgment for both possession of the premises and unpaid rent.  Often, landlords will simply request a judgment for possession, as their goal is to evict noncompliant tenants from their property as fast as possible.  A judgment solely for possession is typically the most efficient way to achieve this, as tenants have an opportunity to appeal the judgment and turn the simply summary ejectment action into unwelcome, extended, expensive, and frivolous litigation.

If you are a residential landlord, North Carolina law does not allow you to use self-help to eject a noncompliant tenant.  That is, you must obtain a judgment for possession, wait ten days, and engage the Sheriff’s Office’s services to eject a tenant.   However, if you are seeking to eject a commercial tenant, you may forego the judicial summary ejectment process and use self-help if your lease agreement expressly allows it.  This does not mean you may resort to bullying, physical force, scare tactics, or any cruel or unusual means to get your tenant out.  You may, however, change the locks and use other peaceful means to eject the tenant.  If the tenant resists at all, you must cease self-help efforts and turn to the judicial process to evict the tenant.

While common sense largely governs the acceptable means of self-help, be sure to consult an attorney if you are uncertain about what you are (and are not) allowed to do to evict a troublesome commercial tenant.

I got my judgment. Now what?

After obtaining a judgment for possession, the tenant has ten days to vacate the property.  After ten days, the judgment becomes final and if the tenant fails to move out, the sheriff will forcibly remove the tenant from the property.

If the judgment also awards money damages, the tenant has the option to appeal the judgment within ten days.  If the tenant does not do so, the judgment will become final and the landlord may begin collection and execution efforts.

This blog post does not constitute legal advice and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship.

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