Archive

Tag: small claims
  • A Lease is a Contract

    Summary ejectment law is a complicated, confusing mishmash of modern-day consumer protection legislation, centuries-old property law, and plain old contract law, Getting in too deeply can lead to a person starting to throw around phrases like livery of seisin (a very old term from feudal England that basically required the old landowner to hand the new landowner a piece of dirt).  That slip into madness is not required. While there’s nothing intuitive about livery of seisin, we’ve all understood contract law since childhood. My six-year-old son once traded his 3-year-old sister two stuffed animals for lifetime rights in “the good chair.” In the complicated world of summary ejectment law, sometimes it’s useful to remember a simple truth: a lease is a contract. So let’s think about what we all know about contracts, and then apply that knowledge to leases. Continue Reading

  • New Legislation regarding Summary Ejectment

    Landlords often encounter a frustrating situation when they file a lawsuit for eviction and past due rent, resulting, ironically, from the interaction of two laws intended to benefit landlords. First, GS 42-29 requires the sheriff to expedite service of process by mailing the tenant the complaints and summons “as soon as practicable.” Within the next five days, and at least two days before the trial, the officer must visit the tenant’s home to attempt personal service. If no one answers the door when the officer knocks, the second special rule for summary ejectment cases kicks in, allowing the officer to simply post the summons and complaint on the door. Such “service by posting” allows the trial to go forward even though the tenant has not been personally served.

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  • Marco Polo and Mobile Home Spaces

    When I was a child, sharing the backseat of a station wagon with my brother and sister on long summer road trips, we used to play the First Thing You Think Of word association game. You know the one, where your sister says Cold and you say Hot, as fast as you can. Salt and pepper. Marco? Polo! The only thing that’s really changed now that I’m grown up are the words. Mobile home space? If you thought 60 days, this blog is for you.

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  • Action to Renew a Judgment – But Not Really

    Many small claims magistrates hold court for years before encountering an action to renew a judgment, but when they do, they are often uncertain about it – and for good reason! North Carolina trial courts as well as appellate courts have stumbled over the nature of this unique claim for relief.

    To understand this action, we have to back up ten years, to a plaintiff who goes to court [Lawsuit #1], wins the case, and obtains a money judgment [Judgment #1] against the defendant. Once that judgment has been entered, the plaintiff has ten years to try to collect it through the usual enforcement procedures available through the Clerk’s and Sheriff’s offices. GS 1-234.

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  • The Court of Appeals on When a Payment is “Due”

    The North Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion last week that may – or may not–have some implications for residential leases in North Carolina. At the very least, RME Management, LLC, v. Chapel H.O.M. Associates, LLC (filed 1/17/2017) makes me think I should give a longer answer when a small claims magistrate asks me a particular question about summary ejectment law. But more on that later. First, let’s take a look at RME.

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  • Is Service by Posting Available in Non-Residential Leases?

    North Carolina small claims magistrates across the state report that most summary ejectment actions are served by posting, and that’s not surprising. GS 42-29, the statute establishing the procedure for service of process in such cases, establishes a very narrow window within which the officer must operate: the officer must visit the defendant’s place of abode to attempt personal service within five days of the summons being issued, but at least two days prior to the court date. For the most part this brief span of time does not permit an officer to make a second effort at personal service. Consequently, in those instances in which no one opens the door to accept service, the officer is instructed by the statute to post the complaint and summons to a conspicuous place on the rental premises. This method of service — variously referred to as service by posting or nail and mail — has long been a legally permissible alternative means of service in certain circumstances. In this blog post, I’m going to explore whether and how this works in a situation in which the rental agreement involves something other than a residential setting.

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  • Small Claims Mailbox: Questions from Magistrates about Service of Process

    Service of process in small claims cases, like many other small claims procedures, requires reference to North Carolina’s Rules of Civil Procedure (GS 1A-1) as modified by GS Ch. 7A, Art. 19 (Small Claims Actions in District Court). In today’s blog post, I’m going to explore that law by sharing some (lightly edited) email inquiries I’ve received from magistrates over the last few years. But first, a quick overview of why we care so much about service of process.

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  • Must a Tenant Introduce Opinion Evidence of Fair Rental Value in an Action for Rent Abatement?

    On Tuesday the NC Court of Appeals handed down an opinion in Crawford v. Nawrath, a Mecklenburg County case involving the calculation of damages for violation of the Residential Rental Agreement Act (RRAA). The Crawford opinion is unpublished and thus does not constitute controlling legal authority but nevertheless is interesting and informative, both procedurally and substantively.

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  • Minimum Notice Requirements in Small Claims Actions

    It’s not hard to understand why every state in the United States offers its residents a small claims court. Small claims courts offer two advantages increasingly hard to come by in the court system: they’re cheap, and they’re fast. In 2009 the North Carolina General Assembly took steps to ensure that small claims cases aren’t decided too fast by enacting minimum notice requirements.  Prior to this legislation, a small claims defendant might be served Monday evening for a trial held Tuesday morning. The legislation enacted two separate amendments establishing different minimum notice requirements for (1) summary ejectment actions, and (2) all other small claims cases.  As we shall see, despite their differences, the guiding principles for magistrates implementing the legislation are the same for both types of lawsuits.

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  • G.S. 42-3: The Landlord’s Life Preserver

    At common law a landlord confronted with a non-paying tenant had only one hope for regaining possession of rental property: a lease provision spelling out that the tenant’s default would trigger the landlord’s right to repossess the property (commonly referred to as a forfeiture clause). When the parties have agreed in advance to this consequence for failure to pay rent, an action for summary ejectment merely asks the court to enforce the agreement of the parties. The common law rule was that absent such agreement, the landlord was left to the unsatisfactory recourse of cutting his losses by terminating the lease as soon as possible and attempting to collect unpaid rent through an action for money owed — with all of the attendant problems associated with the collection of money judgments.

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  • Small Claims Procedure for Magistrates: Judgments, Orders, and the Difference between Them

    When a magistrate has heard evidence in a case and makes a decision based on that evidence, the formal document reflecting that decision is a judgment of the court. Form judgments for each kind of small claims case are provided by the AOC (designated as CVM forms), and they provide a valuable guide to the finding and conclusions required for a proper judgment. While the AOC forms are convenient, the law does not require their use, and some counties routinely utilize different forms. The AOC forms do reflect thoughtful decisions about what should be included in a judgment, however, and a small claims magistrate is advised to investigate further before deciding to routinely deviate from or ignore some portion of the judgment form.

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  • Subject Matter Jurisdiction in Actions for Summary Ejectment

    For hundreds of years, the law has provided a procedure for landlords to obtain assistance from the justice system in ousting a tenant and taking back rental property. In North Carolina in the late 19th Century, just as today, “proceedings in ejectment” were one of the most common types of civil cases filed. I recently spent some time reading many older landlord-tenant cases in an effort to trace the development of the law pertaining to subject matter jurisdiction in summary ejectment cases. I began with some reservations about the continued relevance of these cases. After all, North Carolina’s entire court system was revised – and the Rules of Civil Procedure adopted– after many of these cases were decided. Justices of the peace no longer hold court, and appeal from small claims court is to district—not superior—court today. What I found striking in doing this research was actually how little has changed. The questions in the late 1800s may have used different legal terminology, but would be familiar to any small claims magistrate. One of the most common issues, for example, was whether a seller/landlord could regain possession of property subject to a rent-to-own agreement by way of summary ejectment.  Another was whether a buyer by way of foreclosure could use summary ejectment to oust the former owner. What I found is that the rules governing jurisdiction in ejectment cases have remained remarkably consistent in application, although the underlying rationale for the rules has, from the beginning, been considerably more variable. This post attempts to summarize those procedural rules where they are clear. In my next post, I’ll discuss some troublesome areas in which clarity is lacking. Continue Reading

  • Special Rules for Summary Ejectment Actions

    In my last post, I outlined the most significant procedural differences between general civil actions and actions brought in small claims court, which are governed in large part by GS Ch. 7A, Art. 19. Overall, the procedure in small claims court is simpler, faster, and cheaper. The substantive rules and procedures for summary ejectment, the most common small claims action, are highly specialized and allow for even faster relief. Summary ejectment is a legal action brought by a landlord seeking to remove a breaching tenant from possession of rental property.  North Carolina joins a large number of states in offering landlords this carefully crafted remedy, which may at first appear unusual in its provision of frank preferential treatment to a particular group of litigants seeking a particular remedy.  The US Supreme Court approved such specialized treatment many years ago, however, pointing out that providing an expedited procedure for these cases makes sense in the larger context of laws prohibiting the common law practice of self-help eviction. “The objective of achieving rapid and peaceful settlement of possessory disputes between landlord and tenant has ample historical explanation and support. It is not beyond the State’s power to implement that purpose by enacting special provisions applicable only to possessory disputes between landlord and tenant.” Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56, 72, 92 S. Ct. 862, 873, 31 L. Ed. 2d 36 (1972). In this blog entry, I’ll identify the most significant distinctions between the usual procedural rules applicable to small claims court and those applicable only to actions for summary ejectment.

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  • Summary Ejectment & Unconscionability: When Breach of the Lease Is Not Enough

    North Carolina law permits summary ejectment from residential housing only for reasons specified in the statute. G.S. 42-25.6.  In Eastern Carolina Regional Housing Authority v. Lofton, 767 S.E.2d 63 (2014), the North Carolina Court of Appeals decided a case—and created new law – related to one of the most common grounds for summary ejectment: breach of a lease condition which, according to the lease itself, triggers the landlord’s right to declare the lease forfeited.

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