The official term for an eviction process in North Carolina is a Summary Ejectment. A North Carolina eviction process can differ from county to county, but they all more or less follow the same process:
Every eviction process is different and dependent on the information in 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, especially history of rent payments.
Filing an eviction action takes time and patience. Going to court may be a long and tedious experience for a landlord who handles multiple properties.
It can also cost a landlord more money than it's worth. Most landlords are advised to try to work things out with a tenant outside court. It is only in extreme cases when a landlord resorts to filing for an official eviction action.
This article details a summary for landlords to refer to when evicting a tenant. Confirm procedures and information with your justice court to make sure the entire process goes as smoothly as possible.
Alternatively, a landlord can also ask for legal advice from an attorney for more information on the rules for eviction. The best legal advice will come from an attorney who is well-versed in North Carolina legal law.
A landlord is advised to be wary of the service fees associated with an attorney. But despite all that, an attorney can be of huge service to a landlord when it comes to the court hearing.
The first step of summary ejectment in North Carolina is providing a notice. There are only some states which do not require a Notice to Quit, and even then it depends on the reason for eviction.
The notice serves to notify the tenant that they are in danger of eviction by providing the reason for eviction and how long a tenant has to pay, comply, or leave before the process begins. A landlord must not evict any tenants without this notice.
And, no matter the reason for eviction, the landlord cannot do a self-help eviction, which is an illegal form of eviction that has consequences for the landlord.
Furthermore, a landlord cannot do a retaliatory eviction, which is another form of illegal eviction that is brought on by attempting to evict a tenant for reporting the landlord's irresponsibilities to a local government agency.
In the state of North Carolina, there are four main reasons for a tenant to be evicted:
- Failure to pay rent owed or nonpayment of rent
- Violation of the lease/rental agreement
- Conducting illegal activity
- Non-renewal of the lease after the end of the rental period
Learn how the eviction process for each reason should be handled. Information such as appropriate notice periods can be found below.
1. Failure to pay rent owed or nonpayment of rent
The most common reason for eviction is non-payment of rent. A landlord can evict a tenant for failing to pay the rent on time.
Rent is considered late in North Carolina a day past its due. For example, if rent is due on the 25th and the tenant has been unable to make the timely payment of rent by the 26th, then rent is considered late or past due and the landlord must give an eviction notice.
In North Carolina, this eviction notice may either be written or verbal.
However, a grace period to extend the payment of timely rent may be available if the landlord and tenant were able to include that stipulation in the lease/rental agreement.
Before a landlord can start with the eviction action for failure to pay past due rent, the landlord must give the tenant ten days' notice to pay the rent. This means a tenant is required to either pay the rent due or move out of the property within ten days in order to avoid eviction.
If tenants who are being evicted for not paying rent on time manage to pay all past due rent in full to the landlord before the ten days are up, the entire summary ejectment stops and they can continue staying within the rental premises.
Additionally, tenants who are unable to pay rent on time can be charged a late fee. But a late fee can only be charged if the tenant has been unable to pay rent for 5 days.
A landlord can file for an eviction action for tenants who do not vacate or leave the rental premises by the end of their notice period (or 10 days).
2. Violation of the lease/rental agreement
A lease agreement can vary from tenant to tenant. It contains the responsibilities of each party during the entire duration of the tenant's stay.
A tenant may face eviction for a lease violation. Landlords and tenants are required to uphold the terms of the lease agreement at all times.
The landlord can evict the tenant for violating any of the terms stipulated in the lease. They are not required to give the tenant any form of notice that informs the tenant of their violation.
The landlord may allow the tenant time to cure the violation, but they are not required by North Carolina law to do so.
Lease violations in a North Carolina eviction include:
- Damage to the rental unit
- Smoking in non-smoking areas
- Too many people are living inside the rental unit
- Housing a pet in a pet-free rental unit or rental property, etc.
The evidence of lease violation must be substantial enough to warrant an eviction. The landlord may continue with an eviction action immediately without the need of giving the tenant a notice.
3. Conducting illegal activity
In the state of North Carolina, landlords and tenants have to refer to their written lease agreement to handle cases involving illegal activity. North Carolina law does not specify a required notice for this category.
If a tenant has engaged in illegal activity on the rental premises, the landlord is not required to give them any prior written notice before filing for eviction.
Examples of illegal activity include, but are not limited to:
- Drug trafficking
- Any sort of criminal activity the tenant gets involved in
- Involvement in the illegal creation, distribution, or consumption of a controlled substance
In case the tenant was not a direct instigator of the criminal activity or has made reasonable attempts to prevent it, they may remain on the rental property. However, the tenant has to prove that they made these attempts
4. Non-renewal of lease after the end of the rental period
A North Carolina eviction process does not allow a landlord to evict a tenant without good cause. As long as the tenant does not violate any rules, they can stay until their rental period ends.
However, if the tenant becomes a "holdover" tenant, the summary ejectment may begin after the appropriate notice period. A holdover tenant is someone who overstays their lease term without applying for a renewal.
A landlord can evict a tenant who stays in the property even a day after their written lease ends (and has not arranged for a renewal).
This type of notice or eviction usually only applies if the landlord wants to end the tenant's lease. The required notice time given to a tenant depends on their tenancy type.
Should the tenant remain in the rental premises even after their notice period ends, the landlord may proceed with the eviction filing in order to evict the tenant from the property.
Filing a Complaint
The second step of the eviction process in North Carolina s filing a legal complaint in the correct justice court. Costs for filing depends on the court. For example, small claims court charges a filing fee of $96.
A landlord must file a complaint only after the notice period has passed. Successful evictions rely on correct filings, so North Carolina landlords must file all the forms correctly.
1. Steps in filing
- Proceed to the justice court the rental property belongs to. Most evictions are held in small claims court
- Fill out the form entitled "Complaint in Summary Ejectment"
- Pay the filing costs
It takes a maximum of 30 days, depending on the reason for eviction, before a landlord can file a complaint.
Serving the Tenant
The third step of the eviction process in North Carolina is serving the Summons and Complaint to the tenant. The landlord must not serve the documents by themselves.
The Summons and its supporting documents must contain information such as the date and time of the eviction hearing.
North Carolina allows either the sheriff any other individuals who are legally allowed to serve the tenant these documents. They must be delivered within 5 days from the date-time the Complaint was filed.
1. How to serve documents to a tenant
The Summons and its corresponding documents must be served on the tenant through one of the following methods:
- Personal Service: The Summons and Complaint is served on the tenant in person
- Mailing: The documents are mailed to the tenant's last known address
- Substituted Service: If the tenant is unavailable and personal service cannot be conducted, a copy of the Summons and Complaint may be left at the tenant's place of residence or rental unit with someone living with them who is of a "suitable" age
- Posting: Should all the methods above fail, and no other method is available, the Summons is placed in a secure and visible position by the entrance of the tenant’s rented property
2. After serving the Summons and Complaint
In the state of North Carolina, the tenant may not file an answer with small claims court for a trial to be scheduled. The tenant must attend the hearing if they wish to provide their own defense.
However, if the eviction is going to be held in District Court, a tenant must file an answer within 20 days from the date and time they received the Summons and its corresponding documents.
The Summons and Complaint must be served 5 days after the complaint was filed by the landlord.
For evictions held in District Court, the tenant must file an answer within 20 days from the date the tenant is served the Summons and Complaint.
Asking for Possession
1. Filing a Motion to Obtain Judgment and get a Judgment for Possession
To win and accomplish this step, landlords have to provide a strong argument backed up by solid evidence against their tenants. Should the tenant fail to show up to the hearing, the landlord may win by default.
Landlords must win the eviction hearing in order to remove the tenant from the property the legal way.
A hearing for an eviction action is scheduled in 7-30 days depending on the location of the eviction hearing. The tenant has 30 days to appeal the judge's ruling.
1. After the landlord wins the case and gets a Writ of Possession
Once the landlord wins the case, and provided the tenant does not file for an appeal or reconsideration, the court will issue a Writ of Possession 10 days after the court rules in the landlord's favor.
The Writ of Possession is a court order that informs the tenant that the tenant must move out of their housing on the property or else they will be forcibly evicted. If the tenant fails to do so, they will be forcibly evicted.
The Writ of Possession is issued after 10 days to allow a tenant in North Carolina to file an appeal. The tenant could use the 10 days to come up with a list of tenant defenses.
2. Next procedure if the tenant disagreed and filed an answer
Filing an answer is not necessary for an eviction hearing to be held or scheduled in small claims court. However, it is necessary for the district court.
The court trial comes to order with or without the tenant. Should the tenant be unable to attend the hearing, the judge may issue a default judgment in favor of the landlord.
This means the tenant must move out of the rental property. However, if the eviction case is about nonpayment of rent, then the tenant has until judgment is passed in favor of the landlord to resolve their nonpayment of rent owed.
In short, if they pay all due rent including late fees, the eviction case is stopped.
If both parties are present, the landlord has to support their claim with evidence and show it to the judge. This includes, but is not limited by the following:
- Copy of the deed and the lease/rental agreement
- Rent receipts
- Rent ledgers
- Bank statements
- Witness statements
- Photo and video documentation of the violations committed by the tenant
Either the landlord or tenant may ask for a court hearing held in front of a jury, but doing so will add more time to the summary ejectment, and possibly move the date of the court hearing.
Alternatively, either party may also enlist the service of an attorney to assist them in court or to handle the case altogether.
3. Move out process
This final step in the eviction process is to move the tenant out of their housing on the property. North Carolina laws dictate that a tenant must vacate the property within 5 days once the Writ of Possession is posted or delivered to the sheriff's office.
This, along with the 10 days before the Writ is issued allows the tenant a maximum of 15 days to appeal the ruling and vacate the property.
However, if the eviction involved illegal activity (like criminal activity such as drug trafficking), the law enforcement officers will forcibly remove the tenant immediately once the sheriff's office receives the Writ of Possession.
Only the appropriate authorities are allowed to forcibly remove the tenant. Even if the landlord wins the case, they cannot engage in illegal methods of eviction.
Sometimes a tenant can leave behind personal property after a forced eviction. The tenant's personal property has to be stored by the landlord for at least 7 days. Landlords are advised to contact the tenant to collect their personal property.
After 7 days, the property will be considered abandoned and the landlord turns it over to the sheriff's office. The sheriff's office is then in charge of moving the property to a safe storage facility.
The tenant will have to pay for the storage fees once they come to collect their property. North Carolina law prohibits the landlord from selling or damaging the personal property of a tenant.
A tenant has a maximum of 5 days to leave the rental premises from the moment the Writ of Possession is delivered to the sheriff's office. A tenant must vacate the rental premises immediately if they are being evicted for illegal activity.
A tenant's personal property has to be kept untouched in the rental unit for at least 7 days before the sheriff's office can move it to another place for safekeeping.
North Carolina Eviction Timeline
On average, it should take about 1 month to 3 months for a complete North Carolina eviction process. This does not include the additional time it will take for an appeal to be filed.
The fourth step of the eviction process in North Carolina is attending an eviction hearing. In North Carolina, eviction hearings are scheduled depending on which court the eviction is to be held in.
Evictions in small claims court are held as early as 7 days from the date the Summons was issued by the court. Evictions in district court will be held within 30 days from the date the Summons was served.
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 tough 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 individual 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 you can easily search through.
- 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, and any other relevant terms.
- 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 not accept a 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, letter, or mail, it’s important to show this. While it’s usually not needed, it’s still good to show that you made them aware of the situation and gave them time to resolve the issue. 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, you can be confident that the judge will rule in your favor.
- 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, showing the court that the tenant directly violated the terms of the agreement can greatly help you. 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 you kick someone out without an eviction notice in North Carolina?
No. A landlord could be sued for forceful eviction of a tenant if they skip the proper eviction processes.
It is against North Carolina law to not provide a tenant with the appropriate written notice before proceeding with an eviction action except for a lease violation wherein the tenant breaks a condition of the lease, and when illegal activity is involved such as drug trafficking.
In the state of North Carolina, tenants can sue their landlords for actual damages.
Which eviction methods are illegal in North Carolina?
Self-help eviction is illegal. Examples of such acts include (but are not limited to):
- Cutting off the tenants' electric, water, and/or heat supply
- Changing the locks to prevent tenants from entering the property
- Vandalizing or destroying the tenants' property
What are the penalties for a self-help eviction in North Carolina?
According to North Carolina Civil Code, you may be liable for Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay on the property if the case applies.
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 North Carolina?
A landlord must be aware of any information regarding the COVID-19 Eviction Policies.
Landlords must also check out information about laws on Security Deposits. One needs to learn how these deposits can protect the landlord when there is unpaid rent or repairs.
A landlord also needs to read about Landlord-Tenant laws in North Carolina, often called the Landlord-Tenant Act, so that they have some information on the rules of the state when it comes to evictions.
Knowing at least one of these laws will help a landlord win an eviction lawsuit.
- NC Governor Roy Cooper: Governor Extends North Carolina Evictions Moratorium
- NOLO: Consequences of Illegal Evictions
- NOLO: North Carolina Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines
- NOLO: Overview of Landlord-Tenant Laws & Responsibilities in North Carolina
- NOLO: How to Evict a Tenant in North Carolina
- Schambs Property Management: The Eviction Process in NC