Legal Options for Alabama Landlords When Tenants Can’t Pay Rent During COVID-19

With the expiration of the federal CARES Act eviction moratorium, it is no longer applicable to tenants, which means that the landlord must provide the tenant an eviction notice of:

  • A minimum of 30 days
  • The eviction notice must be dated post-July 25th, 2020
  • The landlord must let the tenant know about the outstanding rent and offer them an opportunity to pay it

A landlord cannot charge late fees for between March 27th, 2020, and July 25th, 2020. If, after that time, the rent remains unpaid, an Alabama landlord can file an Unlawful Detainer against the defaulting tenant in court.

Legal Channels to Eviction: Unlawful Detainer versus Failure to Vacate

Alabama offers landlords two provisions for evicting tenants, namely, unlawful detainer or failure to vacate. The landlord can pursue any one of these two routes. In unlawful detainer proceedings (which fall in the category of civil eviction), the landlord will need to provide the tenant with a written notice to vacate the premises. After the notice period’s expiration, if the tenant has still not left the property, the landlord can file a lawsuit against the tenant.

The proceedings for failure to vacate (criminal proceedings) necessitate that the landlord provides the tenant with ten days of written notice to vacate the property. Such eviction can happen only in case the tenant defaults on rent. If the tenant fails to evict the property after the ten-day warning period, the landlord may seek help from the courts. The tenant might be charged with a misdemeanor and may need to pay up to $25 per day for the time they remain on the premises, besides rent owed.

On the other hand, the eviction is not over after the expiration of the notice period in the case of an unlawful detainer. In fact, the process begins at this point. If the tenant does not vacate the premises on their own upon notice period expiry, the landlord must then undertake the below to regain rights to their property:

Serve a 7, 14, or 30-Day Notice

The eviction process starts with a landlord submitting written notice in person or through a process server detailing the reasons for the eviction. In cases of non-payment of rent, a seven-day notice is acceptable. For breaking lease terms, a 14-day notice is necessary. A 30-day notice is required for month-to-month lease agreements.

The notice period offers tenants a chance to “cure” the indiscretion (clear the rent amount or resolve the issue). If rent arrears are the problem, and the tenant pays the outstanding amount or a lesser amount mutually agreed upon by the landlord and tenant, the notice becomes void.

File and Serve a Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer

If the notice period elapses without the tenant trying to cure the problem, the landlord is entitled to file and serve a Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer. After this notice has been served, the tenant has up to 14 days to respond for rent non-payment and seven days for all other matters. If the tenant fails to respond, the judge will decide in the landlord’s favor.

A Potential Hearing

If a tenant objects or responds to the notice, a hearing will take place before a judge, in which both parties will be given a chance to explain their side of the issue. However, it is ultimately incumbent on the landlord to show that the notice was served lawfully, and the tenant is in violation of their duty.

A Decision will be Made

The tenant will be given seven days to appeal a judgment that is in favor of the landlord. After the seven-day appeal period lapses, the landlord can acquire a Writ of Possession. Subsequently, a sheriff may forcibly evict the tenant.

Tenant May Still Appeal the Decision

If the tenant chooses to appeal the decision, they may remain on the premises but must pay rent during this process.

Disposing of Possessions

In case the tenant loses the appeal and leaves possessions within the premises, the law requires landlords to wait for 14 days before disposing of the tenant’s belongings.

Legal Assistance by Experienced Alabama Real Estate Attorneys

There exists a relatively drawn-out eviction process in Alabama. Landlords may have to spend weeks or months as well as significant resources to get a tenant evicted from their property. Therefore, working out a solution with the tenant is the most efficient route to eviction.

Upon realizing that the landlord does not want them on the property, tenants are often willing to leave. Sadly, the landlord may be left with no choice but to pursue legal action if a tenant is unwilling to vacate the premises or arrive at an agreement.

If you are a landlord in Alabama, it is best to have a seasoned lawyer on retainer. The experienced attorneys at Davis, Bingham, Hudson, Bucker, P.C., can educate you on your rights before you rent out your property, rather than after it is rented when your rights become constrained. Call (334) 821-6335 today to speak to an attorney.

What is Normal Wear & Tear with a Rental Property?

Renting has been a growing trend in recent years. In the wake of the Great Recession of the late 2000s, many families found themselves underwater with their mortgages, leading to record numbers of foreclosures. This created an increasing demand for rentals as previous homeowners were no longer able to qualify for a mortgage. The strong rental market has prompted a lot of homeowners to rent their properties rather than sell them.

While renting has its advantages, there are some drawbacks to becoming a landlord. The responsibility of maintaining the property, making repairs, and other headaches can create a lot of stress for property owners. And when a tenant decides to move out, the landlord has to clean the home and make sure it is in condition to rent again. This creates a dilemma for landlords: “what is considered normal wear and tear, and when should I deduct for repairs from the security deposit?”

What is “Normal Wear & Tear?”

Wear & tear refers to the deterioration of the property that occurs over time under normal conditions. Some examples of normal wear & tear may include:

  • Paint that gets faded over time;
  • Carpet that gets faded or worn thin, especially in high-traffic areas of the home or apartment;
  • Wallpaper that is faded or slightly torn;
  • A few minor chips, dents, smudges, scrapes, cracks, or nail holes in the walls;
  • Lamps or window shades that are dirty or faded;
  • Curtains or blinds that are moderately dirty;
  • Scuffed varnish on wood floors through regular use;
  • Dark patches that may develop on hardwood floors after they have lost their finish;
  • Doors that become sticky due to humidity;
  • Cabinets that become warped over time (usually due to humidity) that no longer close;
  • Window panes that become cracked due to a faulty foundation or the building settling;
  • Mold that develops due to lack of proper ventilation;
  • Loose grouting and loose bathroom tiles;
  • Malfunctioning appliances due to normal use or faulty equipment;
  • Clogged sinks or drains due to aging pipes;
  • Warn varnish on plumbing fixtures.

Essentially, normal and reasonable wear & tear refers to anything that occurs due to property or appliance defects or what would be expected to occur over time when someone is living in the home or apartment.

What is Considered “Excessive Tenant Damage”?

In Alabama, landlords are allowed to charge a security deposit of up to one month’s rent. There some exceptions, however. If the tenant has pets, there are changes made to the unit, or other there are other circumstances that create an additional liability for landlords, a higher security deposit can be required. Landlords can withhold a tenant’s security deposit (or a portion of it) for:

  • Unpaid Rent
  • Damage that exceeds normal wear & tear

Excessive tenant damage is damage that impacts the value, functionality, or usefulness of the property that does not occur naturally and is committed on purpose or because of neglect. Examples may include:

  • Damage cause by pets (e.g., torn carpeting or carpet stains);
  • Holes, stains, or burns on the carpet;
  • Ripped screens, broken windows, and broken window hardware caused by tenants;
  • Unapproved paint, wallpaper, drawings, or crayon markings on the wall;
  • Large holes in the wall caused by accidents, neglect, or abuse;
  • Water stains on wood floors;
  • Broken appliances caused by accidents, abuse or neglect;
  • Broken doors or doors with torn off hinges;
  • Cracked hardwood floors or cracked or missing floor tiles;
  • Broken toilet seats or broken bathtubs;
  • Cracked or broken mirrors.

Landlords in Alabama must return a tenant’s security deposit by first-class mail within 35 days after the tenant moves out. If a landlord deducts all or part of the security deposit, they must include an itemized written statement giving the exact reasons why part or all of the security deposit was withheld. If the deposit is being withheld for tenant damage, the statement should outline the damage that occurred and the approximate cost to repair it.

What to Do if you Have a Security Deposit Dispute

If you have a tenant that just moved out and there is a dispute about your security deposit, or you are not sure how much to withhold, it is best to speak with a skilled Alabama landlord-tenant attorney. An experienced attorney can thoroughly assess your circumstances and advise you of your legal options.