Archive

Tag: summary ejectment
  •  A Lease or a License?

    Every small claims magistrate knows that a “simple landlord-tenant relationship” is a jurisdictional requirement in summary ejectment actions. In most cases the existence of such a relationship is quite clear, but that’s not always so. When the property in question is something other than a home or business, questions sometimes arise. For example, what if an agreement involves a boat slip? A stall at a flea market? A horse stall in a stable? A chair in a beauty salon? In these situations and countless others, the legal issue is whether the agreement between the parties should be characterized as a lease or a license.

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  • Small Claims Magistrates: Don’t Make These Mistakes in Summary Ejectment Cases!

    After teaching and advising magistrates about landlord-tenant law for a little more than a decade, I’ve become familiar with their most common errors – which have, somewhat discouragingly, remained pretty much the same throughout that time. All of these errors arise from neglecting to independently analyze the requirements and defenses of each of the four grounds for eviction. Those grounds are briefly summarized below, followed by a list of errors most often made when magistrates confuse them. If you are such a magistrate, please consider having this blog post tattooed somewhere on your body:

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  • When the Nanny Won’t Leave: NC Law on When Employees are Tenants

    In 2014 the story of a California family and a live-in nanny who refused to leave after her employment ended made international news –- including Dr. Phil! According to media accounts, the parties agreed that the nanny would provide childcare and light housekeeping in exchange for room and board. An argument ensued as to whether the nanny was performing her duties as originally agreed, and her employment was terminated. When the nanny retired to her bedroom rather than vacating the property, the situation deteriorated further. Law enforcement refused to intervene, saying the dispute was “a civil matter.” Eventually the nanny voluntarily moved out. One media account  commented, “Even though the nanny is gone, [one of the family members] says she still casts a long dark shadow in her home, saying, ‘As far as I see it, she’s, in a way, like a vampire and she hasn’t yet drained us.’”  

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  • Things You Might Not Know About the Residential Rental Agreements Act

    Small claims magistrates are by now thoroughly familiar with GS Ch. 42, Art. 5, the Residential Rental Agreements Act (RRAA). Claims arising under the Act are routinely raised and determined in small claims court. Even so, there are a few aspects of the Act about which I often receive questions. Continue Reading

  • New Legislation on Landlord’s Out-of-Pocket Expenses

    One of the General Assembly’s last acts before adjourning in June was the enactment of S.L. 2018-50 (S 224), amending landlord-tenant law in apparent response to a decision by a Wake County Superior Court Judge. See “It’s Landlords vs. Tenants in Eviction Battle,” Raleigh News & Observer 6/18/2018.

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  • A Judgment for Possession Is Only Step 1 in Summary Ejectment Cases

    Most small claims actions in North Carolina are for summary ejectment:  an action by a landlord asking the court to terminate the lease of a breaching tenant and award possession to the landlord. In residential leases, landlords are prohibited by law from “self-help” evictions – i.e., forcibly removing a tenant and his property, padlocking the premises, or rendering the premises uninhabitable by cutting off electricity or water. GS 42-25.6. The magistrate’s role in summary ejectment ends when the magistrate makes a decision (enters judgment). But for the landlord, a favorable judgment is simply the first step in a lengthier and more complicated process.

    Consider the following scenario: Laura Landlord wins her summary ejectment action against Tommy Tenant. The magistrate announces a decision in Laura’s favor and completes a written judgment form. With a copy of the written judgment in hand, Laura might understandably assume that Tommy must immediately vacate the property, but that is not the case. That written judgment is not the piece of paper she needs to oust Tommy. The value of the judgment is that it entitles Laura to ask the clerk to issue a writ of possession directing the sheriff to remove Tommy. But that’s not going to happen tonight – or tomorrow. First, we must wait to see whether Tommy appeals the magistrate’s judgment. Continue Reading

  • Don’t Try This at Home: Self-Help Evictions

    A magistrate once told me that the advice given to members of the public by many law enforcement officers and courthouse personnel may be summarized as ATM: Ask the Magistrate. The locations of magistrates’ offices, unlike those of judges, are known to the public, and their doors are — if not actually open – at least accessible. Their telephone numbers are publicized, and when the public calls, that call will be answered by a magistrate. So it’s not surprising that magistrates spend a significant amount of time interacting with citizens seeking legal assistance, walking that fine line between helpfully providing legal information and carefully refraining from giving legal advice. While the questions a magistrate may be asked on any given day are likely to vary over a truly amazing range of topics, there are a few subjects that come up all the time. One of them – the subject of this post – has to do with whether and under what circumstances a landlord may lawfully force a tenant to vacate rental premises—a practice commonly referred to as self-help eviction. Continue Reading

  • New Law: Who Can Appear on Behalf of a Party in Small Claims Court and on Appeal?

    In a previous post I talked about the law related to who can appear on behalf of a party in a small claims case. To briefly reiterate, small claims law makes two exceptions to the general rule requiring parties to be represented by an attorney if they do not choose to represent themselves. One exception allows corporations to appear in small claims court through an agent. See Duke Power Co. v. Daniels, 86 NC App 469 (1987).  The other exception, applicable only in summary ejectment actions, allows agents with actual knowledge of the relevant facts to sign the summary ejectment complaint and (presumably) represent the plaintiff/owner in the small claims action. See GS 7A-216 and 7A-223. Both exceptions are well-established and reasonably straightforward, subject to a few somewhat uncertain points I addressed in my previous post.

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  • Security Deposit Squabbles

    Once, when my son was seven and went to summer camp, I asked the camp counselor how he was doing. She said that he was doing fine, except that he had threatened to sue her for breach of contract when she changed her mind about whether he could dig up a (very large) rock he found. That wasn’t the first—or last—time I struggled to explain to my son that suing people is not the simple speedy solution to problems that he imagined. Small claims magistrates tell me that successful plaintiffs sometimes expect to recover the amount awarded from the defendant at the end of the trial. Certainly, many a plaintiff has been dismayed to learn that the trial is often merely the first of several steps necessary to collect money damages.

    Landlords are entitled to collect a security deposit in order to avoid the need to file a lawsuit for reimbursement for certain specific damages caused by a tenant’s breach. GS Ch. 42, Art. 6, the Tenant Security Deposit Act, regulates this practice in residential tenancies in an attempt to prevent certain unfair and deceptive acts historically associated with security deposits. In this post, I’ll explain the basics of the law and address a few of the most common questions asked about its application. Continue Reading

  • A lease is a contract, but………

    In my last post, I emphasized the contractual nature of a rental agreement. My main point was that the agreement between the landlord and tenant, whether oral or written, is where a small claims magistrate begins in a summary ejectment lawsuit. Often parties wrongly assume that some aspect of their mutual commitments “goes without saying.” In fact, a summary ejectment action is at its heart a breach of contract lawsuit, and the specific terms of the contract are the starting point in determining any dispute.

    While the lease is always the beginning point, the magistrate’s analysis must often go further than just the parties’ agreement. As I’ve previously discussed, landlord-tenant law is replete with special rules, some (mostly procedural) tending to favor the landlord and some (mostly substantive) tending to favor the tenant. The US Supreme Court has pointed out that these procedural advantages and consumer protections, viewed together, work to balance the legal scales related to this unique legal relationship. Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56, 72, 92 S. Ct. 862, 873, 31 L. Ed. 2d 36 (1972). This post highlights some of the many ways consumer protection legislation affects the residential contractual agreements between landlords and tenants. The discussion that follows is limited to that sort of agreement. Continue Reading

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