Estate Planning Law Office of Attorney Joseph F. Pippen, Jr. & Associates
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Q.  What are the rules regarding eviction of tenants by landlords?


A.  Landlords may recover possession of dwelling units in three basic methods:


1.      The tenant can voluntarily surrender it;

2.      The tenant can abandon it;

3.      The landlord may get a court order.


For a tenant to surrender or abandon a dwelling unit, the tenant must inform the landlord that he is leaving and preferably leave him the keys to the unit.  It can be reasonably presumed by the landlord that the tenant has left if the tenant has abandoned the dwelling for one-half of the term of the lease unless the rent is current or some notice of the absence is given to the landlord.

Generally, the landlord would be safe in assuming that the tenant had abandoned the property if all of the possessions and furniture of the tenant had been removed.  If the tenant has not surrendered or abandoned the property, the landlord may not generally change locks, turn off utilities, etc., as these remedies are strictly forbidden and such actions could be cause for criminal penalties or money damages.

            For a landlord to effectively evict someone by using court action, he must give notice to the tenant, which, depending on the circumstances, would either be a three-day notice or a seven-day notice.  After proper notice has been given, the landlord may file an eviction suit.  Suit is usually filed in the county court where the tenant resides and where the property is situated, and the complaint must be served on the tenant by either the sheriff or some other duly authorized process server.

            Since the action is filed in county court, it is advisable for one to be represented by an attorney.  An owner can represent himself in court, but no other agent can represent an owner except an attorney.  Only attorneys can represent corporations.

            Tenants have five days to answer the complaint that is served by the sheriff or process server.  This excludes Saturdays, Sundays or legal holidays.  If the tenant does not leave after receiving the complaint, the landlord may ask the court for a default and a default judgment.  If the tenant files an answer, a hearing must be set before a judge.  At the hearing, both sides may give appropriate evidence; however, if the tenant has a weak case and offers no evidence, the landlord or his attorney may ask for a summary proceeding and get an early judgment.  If the tenant does not show up at the hearing, the landlord is entitled to a default and a default judgment.



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