Alabama eviction laws vary from county to county, but they still follow the same general eviction process:
Every eviction process is different and dependent on the lease/rental agreement signed by the tenant and the landlord. It is always best to exercise meticulous file-keeping to avoid errors that could be exploited by the tenant.
This article details a summary for landlords to refer to when evicting a tenant. Confirm procedures with your justice court to make sure the entire process goes as smoothly as possible.
1. Failure to comply with rent deadlines
A tenant’s rent is late in Alabama if they have been unable to pay it for one day after the deadline. A grace period may be available if stated in the lease/rental agreement.
Before a landlord can start the eviction process, they are required to give the tenant an official written 7-Day Notice to Pay.
If rent is paid within those 7 days, then the filing for eviction does not continue. If they are unable to pay, the landlord reserves the right to continue filing for eviction.
2. Violation of the lease/rental agreement
The rental lease agreement has to be upheld by both tenant and landlord for the entire duration of their stay. Agreements may vary from tenant to tenant.
If a tenant violates any terms from the lease agreement, the landlord has to issue a 7-Day Notice to Comply. If the tenant resolves these issues on time, the eviction process does not continue.
Lease violations may include:
- Damage to the rental property
- Smoking in non-smoking areas
- Keeping pets in pet-free properties, etc.
If the violations are not resolved or they remain on the property, then the landlord may continue with the eviction.
Landlords are not legally obligated to allow the tenant to resolve the violation before presenting them with the notice to quit if the tenant commits the same violation within 6 months.
3. Writing down false or misleading information on the rental application
Landlords reserve the right to evict tenants who have been dishonest in filling out their rental application. Examples of such dishonesty include, but are not limited to:
- Tenant’s employment status
- The number of people living in a rental unit
- Tenant’s personal information
- Tenant’s criminal and eviction history
Tenants charged with writing down false or misleading information cannot correct them. They are given a 7-Day Notice to Quit and have 7 business days to vacate the property.
4. Conducting illegal activity
If a tenant has engaged in illegal behavior within the property, the landlord has to issue an official written 7-Day Notice to Quit.
Examples of illegal activities are:
- Theft, violence, assault
- Involvement in the creation, distribution, or consumption of a controlled substance
- Involvement in the creation, distribution, possession, or use of a firearm. This does not apply in the case of self-defense.
Tenants charged for illegal behavior cannot correct them. They are given 7 business days to vacate the property after receiving the Notice to Quit.
Landlords are advised to keep a close eye on their tenants to make sure illegal behavior does not go unnoticed.
5. Material health or safety violation
Alabama law takes into account the health, building, safety, and housing codes. If a tenant violates any of these codes, the landlord has to issue a 7-Day Notice to Comply to allow the tenant time to fix the problem.
Violations under this could include:
- Not throwing out trash for long periods of time, inviting bugs and/or rodents.
- Damaging the electrical wiring of a unit
- Ruining the plumbing fixtures of a unit
The tenant has to finish repairs or fix the problem by the end of the 7 days. If they are unable to do so, the landlord may continue filing for eviction.
6. Non-renewal of the lease after the rental period ends
In Alabama, landlords cannot evict a tenant or force them to vacate the property without probable cause. As long as the tenant does not violate any rules, they can stay until their rental period ends. As seen in the table, if the lease agreement is categorized as monthly, the landlord may issue a 30-Day Notice to Quit instead of the 7-Day alternative.
But if they stay in the property even a day after their lease/rental agreement ends and have not arranged for a renewal, landlords can issue a written notice to move.
Filing a Complaint
1. How to File a Complaint
The eviction process can only begin after the issuance of the appropriate written notice. Enough notice time must have been allowed before filing for eviction.
The eviction process is as follows:
- Proceed to the justice court the rental property belongs to
- File a complaint
- Pay the fees
It takes about 7 to 30 days from the issuance of the Notice to Vacate/Quit.
Serving the Tenant
1. How to Serve a Tenant
An official from the court delivers the Summons for the hearing and the Complaint to the tenant. The landlord or their lawyer is not allowed to deliver the Summons.
The Summons and Complaint has to be delivered at least 6 days before the return date of the eviction process. There are several methods available:
- Personal Service: The court official delivers the Summons and Complaint to the tenant in person
- Substituted Service: If the tenant is unavailable, someone living with the tenant may receive the documents
- Posting and Mailing: The court official leaves a copy of the documents for the tenant. It is placed in a secure and visible position by the entrance of the tenant’s rented property. When using this method, someone (landlord included) has to mail the documents through first-class mail to the tenant.
2. After Serving the Summons and Complaint
The tenant can respond to the Summons and Complaint. If they do, they will receive another document stating the date of the hearing via mail.
They have 7 days to reply if the eviction process does not involve money, or 14 days if the eviction involves monetary disputes.
The documents should be served to the tenant at within 6 days of the process return date.
Asking for Possession
1. Filing a Motion to Obtain Judgement and get a Judgement for Possession
The landlord has to provide a strong argument backed up by solid evidence against the tenant. Should the tenant fail to show up to the hearing, the landlord wins by default.
If the landlord does not win, they can still appeal within 7 days post-judgment for reconsideration.
2. Next procedure if the tenant disagreed and replied
In the state of Alabama, the need for a reply from the tenant for the court date to be scheduled depends on the county.
If the tenant files a written reply to the Complaint, they must also mail it to the attorney of the landlord or to the landlord themself.
The landlord or the tenant can request for a postponement of the hearing for 15 days.
The landlord needs to support the claim with evidence and show it during the hearing.
This could include, but is not limited to the following:
- Copy of the deed and lease
- Rent receipts and ledgers
- Bank statements
- Photo and video documentation of the violations, correspondence, etc.
If the judge rules in favor of the tenant, the landlord has 7 days to appeal the ruling, and vice versa.
There is no clear date for when an eviction hearing has to be scheduled, but an appeal hearing has to be scheduled no longer than 60 days after either side requests for it.
Appeals can be filed within 7 days of the court giving judgment.
1. After the landlord wins the case
Provided that the tenant does not appeal for reconsideration, a Writ of Execution is issued immediately.
The Writ of Execution gives the tenant a maximum of 7 days to vacate the property.
2. Move out process
The sheriff, police officer, constable, or bailiff executes the Writ. Once judgment is passed in favor of the landlord, the tenant has to move out.
Only the appropriate authorities are allowed to remove the tenant by force. Even if the landlord wins the case, they are not allowed to engage in illegal methods of eviction.
If any belongings are left behind, landlords are required to store them for at least 14 days. They are advised to contact the tenant to retrieve their belongings.
After 14 days, the tenant’s property may be sold or disposed of.
The tenants have 7 days upon judgment being passed in favor of the landlord. Landlords have to wait 14 days before disposing of any personal belongings left behind.
Alabama Eviction Timeline
Below is the average timeline for a complete eviction process. This timeline does not include special cases such as requests for an appeal or continuance.
On average, it would take anywhere between 30 days to a few months for a complete eviction process.
1. How to keep good records
If the tenant disagrees with the eviction request and they reply to the court, it’s important that you keep extremely good records of everything so you can provide proof to the judge and win your case. This part can make or break your entire eviction request in the event of a dispute.
You can stay organized by:
- Keeping a physical paper trail - This gets VERY hard to search through, takes up a lot of storage space, and could get lost, damaged, stolen, or burnt in a fire.
- Scanning documents - Scan every document into your computer. A great scanner is the Brother ADS-1700W for under $200 or the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 for $400.
- Backups - Store and backup every file using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other option that is easily searchable.
- PMS - Use a property management software to save everything from lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and anything you can imagine. This is used best when you also scan every document into your software.
2. Evidence to show for not paying rent
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, and they dispute that claim, it’s important that you show the judge the following:
- Your lease agreement - Showing the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment.
- All payments - Showing all previous payments, how they were normally made (check, credit card, ACH, etc…), and what date they were normally paid on.
- Any payment returns - If their check bounced, their bank account had insufficient funds, or they did a chargeback dispute on their credit card, show this to the Judge. Also show any fees your bank may have charged you, and any penalties you are owed according to your lease agreement.
- All messages - If you sent your tenant automated or manual payment reminders by text, email, a letter, or mail, it’s important to show this. While it’s usually not needed, it’s still good to show that they were aware of the situation and were given time to cure and make payment. This is why it’s always best to have everything in writing instead of any phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
3. Evidence to show for lease violations
If you are evicting the tenant for lease violations, for example, noise complaints, unauthorized pets, or property damages, it’s important to show proof from any of the following methods:
- Security Cameras - If you have a surveillance system that can show them committing the crime or lease violation, it’s safe to say you will normally win this dispute.
- Video - If you didn’t catch them in the act, the next best thing is to record a video with your phone of any damages or the lease violation.
- Pictures - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture could be worth thousands of dollars! Even if you take a video, it’s important to show the Judge any pictures too as it’s usually easier to see by email or printed.
- Lease Terms - Once again, show the court which term they violated in their lease agreement. Don’t worry if you don’t have every single term spelled out in your rental agreement. If the violation is bad enough, it might not be needed to have it written. As a good practice though, start adding all of the potential reasons to evict a tenant into your agreement.
Can I force a tenant to move out in Alabama?
No. A landlord could be sued for forceful eviction of a tenant if they skip the proper eviction processes.
In the state of Alabama, tenants can sue their landlord for three months’ worth of rent or damages, whichever holds more monetary value.
If the tenant chooses to terminate the lease, the landlord has to return the security deposit and rent paid in advance.
As another consequence of forceful eviction, the statute allows tenants to stay in the property and provides for court costs and legal fees.
Which eviction methods are illegal in Alabama?
Self-help eviction is illegal. Examples of such acts include (but are not limited to):
- Cutting off the tenant’s electric, water, and/or heat supply
- Changing the locks to prevent the tenant from entering the property
- Vandalizing or destroying the tenant’s property
What are the penalties for a self-help eviction in Alabama?
According to Alabama Civil Code, you may be liable for Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay.
A tenant can sue you for actual damages plus violations. Tenants may ask for an injunction prohibiting any further violation during the court action.
What other laws should I be aware of in Alabama?
Landlords should be aware of the changes made to the Eviction Policies in the state of Alabama. Especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is also wise for landlords to check out laws on Security Deposits. These deposits protect the landlord in case the tenants violate any terms in the lease/rental agreement or fail to pay their rent.