Getting evicted is every renter's worst nightmare. One day you're living in your home, the next your landlord is demanding you leave. It may feel sudden, unfair, and downright scary if you get an eviction notice from your landlord. But before you panic, it's important to understand that landlords can't just kick you out on a whim in North Carolina. There is a legal eviction process they must follow.
As a tenant, you have rights when it comes to evictions. This article will break down the eviction process in North Carolina, the reasons a landlord can legally evict you, what to do if you get an eviction notice, and where to turn if you need help fighting an eviction case.
Grounds for Eviction in North Carolina
Landlords can only start the eviction process for certain reasons outlined in North Carolina law. They can't evict you just because they don't like you, for instance, or want to raise the rent. Here are the valid grounds a landlord can evict a tenant for in North Carolina:
Not Paying Rent
The most common reason for eviction is when a tenant does not pay their rent on time. If you miss paying rent, here is the process a landlord must follow:
- The landlord must make a formal written demand for you to pay the rent you owe. This demand gives you 10 days to pay up.
- If you do not pay the full amount of rent owed within 10 days, the landlord can then file for eviction.
So if you miss paying rent, you'll first get a written notice saying you have 10 days to pay before your landlord can take legal action.
Lease Term Ending
When you sign a lease, you agree to rent the property for a specific amount of time, usually 6 months or a year. If your lease term ends and you have not arranged to renew your lease or go month-to-month, the landlord can evict you for staying past the end of your lease.
Keep in mind they cannot kick you out the day after your lease ends if you haven't left yet. They must still go through the eviction process. But remaining on the property after your lease is up does give the landlord legal grounds to remove you.
Violating the Lease
When you sign a lease agreement, you agree to certain rules like not having pets, quiet hours, and who can live with you. If you break one of these rules, the landlord can use this as grounds to evict you.
Some common lease violations include:
- Having an unauthorized pet
- Making too much noise and disturbing neighbors
- Damaging the rental property
- Having long-term guests not on the lease
- Smoking in a non-smoking unit
Review your lease carefully so you know what types of activities could be considered lease violations.
Landlords can immediately begin the eviction process if you engage in criminal activity on the rental property. This includes things like:
- Drug dealing or making
- Assault or violence against other tenants
- Any felony committed in the unit
The key is that a tenant's criminal activity interferes with the health, safety, and right to peaceful enjoyment of other tenants. If a tenant engages in criminal activity, the landlord does not have to allow them to stay and can take steps to remove them.
The Eviction Process in North Carolina
If a landlord has valid grounds to evict you, they cannot just lock you out or throw you out on the street. They must go through the legal eviction process. Here are the basic steps:
1. Landlord Files Eviction Complaint
The first step is the landlord will file legal paperwork called a "Complaint in Summary Ejectment" with the clerk of court in your county. This outlines why the landlord believes they have grounds to evict you.
2. You Get Served Eviction Papers
Next, the sheriff's department will attempt to serve you the eviction paperwork. This means you are being formally notified you are being taken to eviction court.
You will get two copies of paperwork - a "summons" notifying you that you have been sued for eviction, and the complaint detailing why.
3. Court Hearing Scheduled
Once served, the court will schedule a summary ejectment hearing within 7 to 10 days. This is where both you and your landlord appear before a judge to argue the eviction case.
4. Time to Respond
You have the right to respond to the landlord's complaint in writing. This is called an "answer." You must provide your written answer to the court within 5 days of getting served.
Responding is important if you disagree with the landlord's grounds for eviction. You can fight the case by presenting evidence and witnesses that show why you should not be evicted.
5. Attend Your Court Hearing
Show up to your scheduled court hearing. This is your chance to tell the judge your side of the story if you disagree with the eviction. You can bring evidence and witnesses to fight your case.
If you don't show up, the judge will likely rule in favor of the landlord by default and order your eviction.
6. Judge's Ruling
The judge will hear arguments from both you and the landlord. They will then decide if the landlord has adequate legal grounds to evict you.
If the judge rules in the landlord's favor, they will issue a "writ of possession" officially ordering your removal from the property.
But if the judge rules in your favor, the eviction will be dismissed and you can stay. For example, if the landlord claims you didn't pay rent but you have receipts proving you did, the judge should dismiss the eviction case.
7. Sheriff Enforces Eviction Order
If the judge rules against you, the sheriff will be responsible for enforcing the eviction order. They will come to physically remove you and your belongings from the rental unit if you don't leave voluntarily.
The sheriff will typically give you 2-7 days to move out once they receive the judge's eviction order.
8. Eviction Goes on Your Record
If you are evicted, it will go on your public record and tenant history. This can make it challenging to rent again in the future.
The whole eviction process usually takes about 2-3 weeks from start to enforcement. While it may seem quick, landlords cannot kick you out overnight - there is a legal process they must complete to legally evict you.
Eviction Notices vs. Actual Eviction
Before filing for formal eviction, your landlord might first send you an initial "notice to quit" or an eviction notice. This is NOT the actual eviction.
An eviction notice is a warning that the landlord plans to start the eviction process unless you either:
- Pay overdue rent (if that's the issue)
- Move out by a certain date
Reasons a landlord might send an eviction notice include:
- You're behind on rent
- You've violated the lease
- The lease term is ending soon
These notices are often sent as a courtesy to give you a chance to voluntarily move out or fix the issue before the landlord goes to court. The notice will specify how many days you have to respond.
But if you miss the deadline in an eviction notice, the landlord can proceed with formally filing for eviction. Just receiving an eviction notice does not mean you've actually been evicted yet.
What to Do If You Get an Eviction Notice
Getting an eviction notice can be scary. Here are some tips on what to do next:
Read it carefully - Make sure you understand why the landlord says they are starting the eviction process.
Respond promptly - If you dispute the reasons given, communicate that to the landlord within the notice period.
Get legal help - Consult a lawyer or housing advocate about fighting the eviction case.
Negotiate - If the issue is unpaid rent, see if you can work out a payment plan.
Prepare to move - If you cannot resolve the issue, use the notice period to start preparing to vacate.
Having a plan can help reduce stress if you do end up receiving an eviction notice.
Fighting Back Against an Illegal Eviction
Landlords sometimes try to skirt the legal process and evict tenants illegally. Here are some examples of illegal evictions:
- Changing the locks when you're not home
- Throwing out your belongings
- Cutting off utilities like hot water or electricity
- Removing outside doors or windows
This type of "self-help" eviction without going to court is against the law. If this happens, call the police immediately and tell them you are being illegally evicted from your home.
You can also sue your landlord for illegal eviction and recover money damages like moving costs, hotel fees, etc. Landlords who self-evict tenants can face steep fines.
Conclusion: Know Your Tenant Rights
The possibility of eviction is scary, but you have legal rights in North Carolina. The key takeaways are:
- Landlords can only evict for valid reasons like lease violations.
- They must go through the court process - you can't just be locked out.
- You can fight back against illegal evictions.
- Resources are available if you need legal help with your case.
Don't move out or panic if you get an eviction notice. Take time to understand the process and weigh your options. With the right information, you can make the best decision for your situation.
Resources for Tenants Facing Eviction
If you are dealing with an eviction notice or case, here are some organizations that may be able to help:
Legal Aid of North Carolina: Provides free legal help for low-income renters.
NC Justice Center: Housing attorneys assist with eviction cases.
Legal Aid Society of Northwest North Carolina: Serves low-income tenants in NW North Carolina.
UNC Center for Civil Rights: Housing discrimination and eviction assistance.
NC Tenant Rights, Resources & Advocacy: Statewide tenant rights group.
NC 211: Referrals to rent and housing assistance programs.
NC Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service: Referrals to local eviction defense lawyers.
Don't hesitate to reach out if you need support or have questions about your eviction rights. The process can feel overwhelming but help is available. With the right information and resources, you can better understand and exercise your legal rights as a tenant.
The eviction process in North Carolina has specific steps landlords must legally follow. While facing potential eviction is stressful, being informed about the laws and procedures can help you make the best choices for your situation. Don't be afraid to stand up for your tenant rights. With preparation and perseverance, you may be able to reach a fair resolution or even fight off an improper eviction.