Eviction Law in Alabama – A Summary
The landlord-tenant relationship in Alabama can be terminated by either expiration of the lease term or for cause, meaning a breach of the rental agreement by either party. In most cases, the landlord will allege some cause to terminate the lease before its expiration by either nonpayment of rent or by some material noncompliance of a lease provision by the tenant.
In some cases, an unruly tenant who is causing major problems for the landlord or one who is consistently late on the rent have led landlords to take unilateral action to remove the tenant. This may involve changing the locks on the rental unit, shutting off utility services, removing the tenant’s personal belongings or even verbally threatening the tenant with physical harm if he or she does not immediately leave. Such self-help measures are illegal under Alabama law. A tenant may bring an action in court against the landlord and may be awarded up to three times the rent or actual damages, whichever is greater, along with attorney’s fees.
The Alabama eviction process begins with written notice given to the tenant. If the reason for early termination of the lease is material noncompliance with the lease agreement or conduct which materially affects the health and safety of others, the landlord must serve a 14-Day Notice. It must specify the conduct or omission that constitutes the material noncompliance and that the breach, if curable, must be done so within 14 days after the notice is received. Material noncompliance may mean having unauthorized persons living on the premises, unauthorized pets, or failing to maintain the unit in a clean and safe manner. Substantially damaging the property is material noncompliance as is possessing, selling, or manufacturing controlled substances in the unit. Other acts such as threatening other tenants or continually playing loud music or keeping garbage on the front lawn could be construed as affecting the health and safety of others.
The other Alabama eviction notice is a 7-Day Notice for nonpayment of rent only. It is also called a 7-Day Cure Notice. If all rent due and owing, even from past months, is not paid within the 7 days, the landlord may then file a court action. The landlord should not accept a partial payment of rent during this time or it will likely invalidate the notice and the tenant can remain in the unit at least until the following rental period has expired and the rent has not been paid or some other reason arises for eviction.
When the rental lease expires, the landlord need not have any reason to ask the tenant to vacate the unit or property. Usually, the lease will specify the amount of time to be given to the tenant to vacate once notice is given, usually 30-days. For example, if the lease is month-to-month, the Alabama evcition notice is 30-days.
Service of Notice
Service of the notice may be in person or by a process server. If the tenant cannot be served personally, the notice may be attached to the door of the unit and the notice mailed to the tenant. The notice must contain the name and address of the tenant and the landlord, be signed by the landlord, contain the specific reason for the eviction and the time permitted for the tenant to remedy the breach if applicable.
The next step in the Alabama eviction process is filing and service of a Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer. If the complaint is for possession only and the reason is for material noncompliance with rental provision or conduct detrimental to the health and safety of others, the tenant has 7 days to respond. Should the complaint be for nonpayment of rent, the time to respond is 14-days. Failure to respond or object to the complaint will place the tenant in default.
A hearing on the unlawful detainer is held before a judge only. Both sides may present evidence and witnesses but it is the landlord who must prove that the notice was properly given and that the tenant breached the rental agreement by nonpayment of rent, by some material noncompliance with the written lease or by conduct or omission that materially affected the health and safety of others.
A judgment in favor of the landlord can include monetary damages including back rent, attorney’s fees and service of process fees, if any.
▪ Breach of Warranty of Habitability
A tenant may claim that the landlord failed to comply with the applicable building and housing codes necessary to maintain the premises in a habitable condition, such as by providing essential services in good working order and making repairs on things affecting the tenant’s health and safety. These include running hot and cold water, heat, air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing and garbage removal.
In such cases, the tenant must provide a written notice to the landlord and allow at least 14-days for the landlord to make the requested repairs and notifiying him or her that noncompliance will terminate the rental agreement. If the landlord fails to comply, the tenant should contact the health department or call the housing inspector to inspect the property and to demonstrate that the condition was hazardous. The tenant may vacate the property with no further obligations under the rental agreement.
▪ Retaliatory Eviction
A landlord cannot evict someone for making complaints about the unit to him or her or to some other agency, or for joining a tenant’ rights union or similar organization.
State and federal laws prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to, or in evicting someone, based on a state or federally recognized protected class. This includes race, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, pregnancy or sex. If disabled, the landlord is obligated to make reasonable accomodations such as allowing “seeing eye” dogs or by adding a ramp for wheelchair access.
Writ of Possession/Appeal
If the landlord prevails, he or she must wait 7 days for the time to appeal to expire to obtain a Writ of Possession. If no appeal is filed, the Writ is given to the sheriff to serve on the tenant if he or she has not vacated the property. Usually, the tenant is given a short time to vacate or the sheriff will forcibly remove the tenant.
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