Durham, Landlord/Tenant, North Carolina

How Long Does the Eviction Process Take in Durham, NC?

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No one wants to see an eviction take place. Both tenants and landlords want to keep everyone in the home in Durham, NC. It’s costly to landlords to have to remove a tenant, and it’s costly to tenants to have to move unexpectedly. Understanding the Durham eviction process can empower all parties to make smart decisions. 

There are several steps to removing a tenant from a property in North Carolina. Though this process was paused during the pandemic, Durham evictions restarted in 2021.  Here’s what you need to know about the Durham County process of eviction, step by step.

Step 1 – Notifying the tenant

The timeline for the North Carolina eviction is pretty straightforward. When a tenant is five days late with their rent, the landlord can then charge a late fee. Ten days after the late fee is assessed, they can start the eviction process. That means a tenant has fifteen days to get their rent current before the landlord can file paperwork. An eviction notice is a jarring step in the civil process. 

Non-payment of rent isn’t the only reason a landlord can evict a tenant. Breaking the terms of the lease can also lead to eviction. For example, if a renter has unauthorized pets or brings too many people into the house. If a renter damages the home, this can also break the terms of the lease. Tenants renting can also be evicted for illegal activity or for staying after the lease is up, though these are different processes. 

A landlord has to notify the tenant of both of these parts of the Durham eviction process. This notification can come via email or mail, but most often it comes in written form. This paper trail is important should the case go to eviction court. if a landlord wants to evict a tenant, they have to go in front of a district court judge. There are certain legal constraints on what a landlord can do. Proper notice of eviction procedures within the legal time frame allowed must be followed.

Step 2 –  NC Eviction Court Summons

Eviction court gavel

Image by Tingey Law Firm via Unsplash

North Carolina eviction law allows landlords to file a complaint with NC eviction court. This costs about a hundred dollars and takes place in small claims court. Court costs are up to each of the parties involved and are paid to the Durham County Clerk’s Office.

The Durham County Sheriff’s Office serves an eviction notice to the tenant when the landlord files in small claims court. They can either hand deliver the paperwork to the tenant or post it prominently on the property. This has to be done at least two days before the court date. It also has to be served within five days of the complaint being filed. 

If a landlord wants to evict a tenant, only the sheriff can serve the individual with the paperwork – not the landlord. When you’re served with eviction paperwork, it’s a good time to seek legal advice. Eviction procedures move quickly. Tenants should move quickly by contacting legal aid or the Durham County Department of Social Services if they’re in danger of being evicted.

Paying rent has to be a personal priority. Evictions are a matter of public record. Even if you can put a security deposit on a new place to live, a prior eviction will make it hard to get a home in the future.

Step 3 – Durham County Eviction Hearing

Durham County Courthouse

Image by Alexisrael, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

The hearing in Durham County eviction court usually takes place within seven days of the summons being served. This is in cases of non-payment or if a tenant breaks the lease. Both of those are handled in small claims court in Durham County. 

If a tenant commits illegal activity in the home, then the process goes through Durham County District Court. This process happens within thirty days if there is an expedited eviction hearing. If there’s not an expedited eviction then it could take longer. 

Tenants rights groups in Durham like Disrupted and North Carolina Legal Aid layout what renters can do if they are faced with eviction. The most important thing is to attend the hearing at the Durham County Courthouse. If the tenant can bring the rent current before the court date, then the eviction is halted. When a tenant comes to court, they can likely negotiate terms to stay in their home, assuming they can make payment. If the tenant doesn’t come to the hearing, then a default judgment is made in favor of the landlord. 

Step 4 – Writ of Possession & Removal

When the hearing is done, if the tenant is ruled to be evicted then they’ll be removed from the property. The writ of possession is a legal document that notifies the tenant that they’ll be removed from their home in Durham. Within ten days of the hearing, the Durham County Sheriff will serve this paperwork to the tenant. This is the same process as the court summons, either posting on the house or serving the tenant personally.

During the ten days after the hearing, the tenant has the right to appeal the decision. It’s not too late for a tenant to stay in their Durham home if they make an effort to pay the rent. Once the writ of possession is served, the tenant has five days to remove their property. Durham County in North Carolina has many resources for tenants who can’t pay rent. No matter where you are in the civil process, you can make an appeal before summary ejectment.  

In the Durham eviction process, all personal property is either removed by the tenant or it’s taken to a local storage facility. The Durham County sheriff’s department can ask the landlord to pay for the removal and the storage. If they refuse, then the writ of possession goes back to the clerk of the court’s office. 

If the reason for eviction is an illegal activity, then the property is removed immediately. Note that this isn’t the same as being removed for nonpayment of rent. Summary ejectment is still the outcome after the court hearing, no matter the reason for eviction.

How long does Durham eviction take?

Rental property moving boxes

Image by Michael Balog via Unsplash

The whole process happens quickly for eviction in North Carolina. All in all, it’s less than sixty days from the missed rent payment. Paying rent on time is important and should be a top priority for tenants to prevent this. 

To recap, the initial notice happens when the rent is five days late. After fifteen days, the landlord can file eviction paperwork. The summons is issued and served within five days after that. The Durham county court will hear and rule on the eviction from seven to thirty days after the summons is served. If the eviction hearing results in the landlord taking possession of the property, then a writ of possession is issued within ten days. The property is returned to the landlord five days later. 

Exceptions to the Durham eviction process

The first thing to know is that it’s illegal in North Carolina to evict someone because they complained about a problem. This is called retaliatory eviction, and it’s a nonstarter. Tenant rights in North Carolina are clearly laid out in NC state law. No one can be kicked out of their house for contacting a local official about an issue or organizing a tenant union. 

Certain domestic violence cases can also result in legal eviction. Find an organization that can provide legal advice if you’re dealing with child custody cases in civil court or if you’re the victim of domestic violence. The sheriff’s office should be able to refer you to helpful resources.

The other thing to know is that squatters are not the same as tenants under North Carolina law. If there’ hasn’t been tenant/renter relationship established because a person has been living in an abandoned property, then the eviction process doesn’t apply. It can in fact take longer to get someone out of a property who hasn’t ever paid rent than to get one out who has been paying rent. 

Knowing your rights matters

Both for tenants and landlords, knowing the Durham eviction process is important. North Carolina eviction laws are there to protect both sides. Affordable housing in Durham isn’t easy to come by. Free legal assistance is available through Legal Aid of North Carolina.

The landlord tenant relationship is governed by either a formal lease agreement that’s put into writing, or it can be a verbal agreement. Either way, landlords have the right to evict tenants who don’t pay rent or who violate the terms of the lease agreement.

If you’re unsure of your ability to pay rent, reach out to programs like the Durham Eviction Diversion Program who can help with a tenant’s ability to pay rent. There are ways to get legal advice before your landlord goes to the Durham County clerk to begin eviction on a rental property.

Note that the landlord will then have to turn over the property to get a new tenant and start getting rent again. The whole eviction process is costly for landlords. Durham rental assistance programs can help. Tenants who are communicative and working with landlords will most likely be able to stay in their homes. 

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