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