Are you a landlord in Montgomery looking to evict your tenant? Whether they haven't paid rent or something more serious, you must proceed with the eviction in a judicial manner. Otherwise, you risk invalidating the entire process and, even worse, getting sued for damages.
The Alabama eviction laws are contained in the statewide landlord-tenant law. The following is the step-by-step process all landlords looking to evict their tenants must follow.
Step One: Legal Reason
A lease is a contractual agreement between a landlord and a tenant. It stipulates the length of time the tenant will occupy their rented premises. As such, a landlord cannot evict them for just any reason, such as not liking them or through discrimination (as covered by the Fair Housing Act).
To evict a tenant, a landlord must have a legal reason. A legal reason for eviction is one that the law recognizes as a breach of the contract, which at times can also allow the landlord to retain the security deposit. For example:
- Failure by the tenant to pay rent
- Habitually late rent payments
- Excessive property damage
- Engaging in illegal activities while on the property
- Providing false information in the rental agreement
- Refusal by the tenant to move out after their lease has expired
- A serious violation of the lease agreement such as violating a Habitability Code
Once landlors have a legal reason to initiate the eviction process, they must then proceed to the next step.
Step Two: Eviction Notice
The next step is to notify the tenant of the violation as well as what they must do. Be aware, there are various types of eviction notices, all of which should be given as a written notice. The landlord must serve the tenant a relevant one based on the violation they have committed.
A. For nonpayment of rent, landlords must serve them a 7-Days’ Notice to Pay. As per Alabama law, rent becomes late one day after it’s due. As for the grace period, landlords must address it in the lease or rental agreement.
The notice gives the tenant two options; to pay rent within 7 days of the notice period or move out. If the tenant doesn’t take either option, landlords can move to court to have them evicted for nonpayment of rent.
B. For violation of the lease agreement, landlords must serve the tenant with a 7-Days’ Notice to Comply. This provides the tenant an opportunity to correct the issue before being evicted. Examples of rental agreement violations that can warrant this include keeping an unauthorized pet, exceeding the rental limit and causing excessive property damage.
The notice gives the tenant an opportunity to rectify the violation within a period of 7 days. If they don’t, again, landlords can move to court for further help for the eviction.
That being said, if the tenant repeats the same violation within 6 months, landlords are not required to allow them time to fix it. They can recieve an Alabama eviction notice, and landlords may proceed to court to file for their removal and begin the eviction process.
Also, note that not all lease violations are covered here. For example, illegal activities, and health and safety violations are covered separately with their own eviction rules.
C. For illegal activity, a landlord must serve the tenant with a 7-Days’ Notice to Quit. The term “illegal” may take two meanings: one, it may mean illegal firearm activity, or two, it may mean illegal drug manufacturing.
If a tenant commits any of these, they aren’t required to “fix” the violation. The landlord can proceed with the eviction process immediately.
D. For health and/or safety violations, a landlord must serve the tenant with a 7-Days’ Notice to Comply. This will give the tenant 7 business days to correct the issue. Of course, if they don’t, the landlord can proceed to court to have them removed.
Examples of violations that fall in this category include causing damage to the electrical wiring and letting trash pile up.
E. For holdover tenants, the landlord must serve them with either of two notices, depending on the rental agreement. That is, a 30-Day Notice to Quit for month-to-month tenants, and a 7-Day Notice to Quit for week-to-week tenants.
Again, if the tenant continues to stay after the notice period is over, a landlord can move to court for the Alabama eviction process.
Step Three: Complaint Filing
If the tenant doesn’t respond to the notice, the next step is to file an eviction complaint in court. In Montgomery, the fee is $247 to begin the eviction lawsuit.
After the filing, the eviction process server will serve it to the tenant at least 6 days before the return date of the process.
Upon its receipt, a tenant must file an answer with the court within 7 days. If they fail to do so, and the court will probably issue a default judgment in the favor of the landlord. But if the tenant chooses to file an answer, they may use any of the following defenses:
- The landlord is retaliating against them for exercising their legal rights. For instance, joining or organizing a tenants’ union to fight for their rights
- The landlord failed to follow the proper eviction process. For example, the landlord did not serve them the proper eviction notice or even a written notice at all
- The landlord continued with the Alabama eviction process even after the tenant fixed the violation. For ‘curable’ violations like nonpayment of rent, a landlord must stop further eviction proceedings once the tenant pays all the due rent. A landlord cannot evict tenants for this under Alabama law
- The landlord prevented the tenant from accessing their rented premises. Even as the landlord, regardless of the violation committed, they cannot take matters into your own hands. This includes, for example, blocking the doors, changing the locks or removing the tenant’s belongings. Only the court can decide whether or not a tenant can be removed from their rented premises. Even then, only the sheriff is mandated to carry out the removal process
- The landlord violated the lease agreement. As a landlord, they have several responsibilities under the lease. One is keeping the rental property in a good state of repair. If the landlord doesn't, a tenant may refuse to make further rent payments. The landlord cannot evict them for exercising that right
Step Four: Writ of Execution
If the ruling is in your favor, the court will issue you with a Writ of Execution immediately. This is a legal document that gives possession of the property back to you.
The Writ of Execution gives the tenant a 7 days’ notice. If the tenant remains in the premises, the sheriff will forcibly remove them, even if the tenant leaves personal property. The tenant breached the law. Ultimately, when a tenant violates the lease agreement or the tenant fails to respond properly to the eviction process, it's very much not in their best interest.
Do you still need further help with the eviction process in Alabama? If you do, consider hiring expert legal services. An experienced property management company like Southern Realm may also be of help.
*Disclaimer: The information contained herein is only meant to be informational and NOT a substitute for professional legal services.