Landlords in Alabama can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Alabama.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 9, 2021
This article explains the basics of Alabama’s eviction laws and tenants' rights in Alabama. If you’re a renter in Alabama and your landlord is threatening eviction, if you’re behind on rent, or if your lease is about to expire, this article will help you understand your rights and the eviction process.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the legal process a landlord uses to remove a tenant/renter from their home for nonpayment of rent or for other reasons, such as failing to keep the property clean. Landlords must generally have a court order to evict a tenant. Removing a tenant without a court order is considered an illegal eviction or illegal lockout.
Who Can Be Evicted in Alabama?
To be evicted in Alabama you must be in a landlord-tenant relationship. Alabama’s landlord-tenant laws are outlined in Alabama statutes. Generally, a tenant is someone who has agreed to rent housing from the landlord. A landlord can also evict people living with a tenant, even if they’re not on the lease.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Alabama?
There are three reasons why evictions occur:
The tenant is short, late, or behind on rent.
The tenant has breached a different lease term, such as damaging the property, smoking in non-smoking areas, or keeping a pet where pets are prohibited in the rental.
The lease term has ended and is not getting renewed.
In Alabama, regardless of the reason for the eviction, the landlord must provide the tenant with a written notice and seven days to cure the default. Curing the default simply means addressing the issue — for example, paying the rent owed, cleaning the property, or removing pets.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
In Alabama, a landlord can’t start an eviction proceeding against a tenant until the tenant is behind on paying rent. Even being one day late constitutes late payment of rent by state law. That said, your lease agreement may include a grace period, which gives the tenant additional days to pay the rent beyond the original due date without risking eviction. Before starting an eviction proceeding, the landlord must give the tenant written notice to pay the rent within seven days. If the tenant pays the rent within seven days, the landlord can’t proceed with the eviction.
Lease Expiration or Termination
Under Alabama law, landlords can evict a tenant after the landlord has terminated the lease or if the lease has expired. In both cases, the landlord is claiming that the tenant no longer has the right to live in the property, regardless of the tenant’s status on paying rent.
Lease expiration differs from lease termination, so it’s important to understand the difference. A lease expiration occurs when the original terms of the lease run out and the landlord decides not to renew the lease. A landlord must give the tenant a 7-day notice to terminate a week-to-week tenancy and a 30-day notice to terminate a month-to-month tenancy.
The landlord may file an eviction proceeding if the tenant remains in the property without the landlord’s consent after the rental agreement expires or is terminated. If the tenant stays in the property without a good faith reason, the landlord may be entitled to up to three months’ rent or actual damages, whichever is greater, plus reasonable attorney’s fees.
When the lease terms haven’t expired, but the landlord terminates the lease for a specific reason, such as nonpayment of rent, this is called lease termination. The landlord must first provide the tenant with a notice of termination, and the tenant has seven days to fix the problem. If the tenant doesn’t fix the problem, then the landlord can file an eviction proceeding, as explained below.
Tenants in Alabama also should understand that the CDC eviction moratorium (banning evictions) that was in place when COVID-19 began is no longer in effect. In August 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the eviction moratoriums were unconstitutional. Therefore, landlords are now free to proceed with evictions, requiring you to pay rent as well as any accrued fees. That said, Alabama tenants may be able to apply for emergency rental assistance through the federal government.
The Alabama Eviction Process
This section provides a basic overview of the general residential eviction process in Alabama.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
To begin an eviction proceeding in Alabama, the landlord must first give the tenant a written notice of the lease termination. The written notice from the landlord must state the reason for terminating the lease (nonpayment of rent, keeping an unauthorized pet, etc.). If you fix the problem within seven days, the eviction process ends and the landlord can’t evict you. If you don't fix the problem within seven days, the landlord can proceed with the eviction process. If you can’t fix the problem but want to avoid having an eviction on your record, you can voluntarily move out before the seven-day deadline.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
In Alabama, once the landlord files an eviction action in court, the tenant has seven days to file a response (referred to as an “answer”) with the court. The landlord must provide the tenant with a summons form, which is a form notifying you of the court action against you. They also have to give you an eviction complaint form notifying you of the claims against you.
You must deliver your response to the court clerk’s office in the county where the eviction notice was filed. You also need to mail the response to the landlord. The court hearing will then be set for 14 days from when you file your response. If you win in court, you can remain in the rental property. If you lose in court, then the landlord has the right to execute the eviction within seven days. This means the sheriff will come and remove you and your possessions from the property. This can happen unless you appeal the eviction order to a higher court within that time frame.
If you appeal the eviction order, the court will then set the matter for hearing. Alabama law states that an eviction hearing must be held within 60 days from the date of the filing of the appeal. Note that if you file a post-judgment motion (like a motion to reconsider or appeal) after you lose the eviction action, this will suspend the time for filing the appeal until the court rules on the motion.
Even if the tenant appeals, the landlord can still get a writ of restitution or possession. This is a court order that gives the landlord the right to evict you. The landlord then has the sheriff or other officer “execute” the eviction, which means to carry out the physical eviction. To prevent the landlord from going forward, the tenant must pay back rent or fix the lease violation.
Typically, the tenant must attend the eviction hearing or risk getting a default judgment against them, which means the landlord will get the relief they’re asking for. That said, judges will often encourage the parties to come up with a settlement agreement rather than going through with the eviction process.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
In responding to the eviction claim, you have the right to raise certain defenses to the eviction action. An affirmative defense is an argument that the landlord has no grounds to evict you. For example, if your landlord is trying to evict you for nonpayment of rent, but you have evidence you paid your rent on time, that is an affirmative defense to the eviction proceeding. You will have to provide evidence of your payment, such as proof that your payment cleared your bank by a certain date. Remember, you must raise your defenses in your answer to the eviction proceeding.
Jefferson County in Alabama provides an answer form for tenants to fill out in response to an eviction proceeding. The form contains defenses the tenant may raise to the eviction proceeding. The tenant may check one or more boxes on the form and sign the form, asking the court to deny the eviction and/or deny the money judgment against the tenant.
The defenses listed in the form include the following, among other things:
The landlord didn’t serve you with a proper termination of lease notice before filing the case.
You did everything the landlord required you to do to avoid eviction before the legal deadline.
You took the money you owe to your landlord by the deadline, but the landlord refused to accept it.
The landlord accepted payment from you after sending you the lease termination notice.
The summons and statement of claim documents weren’t given to you or any responsible person living with you.
You don’t owe the landlord the amount listed in the statement of claim.
You’ve applied for rental assistance and you're asking for a stay of the eviction process.
Counterclaims are different from affirmative defenses. If you raise a counterclaim, you’re arguing that the landlord violated the lease terms, so they can’t continue with the eviction. Violating the lease terms could include failing to make necessary repairs, for example. Under Alabama law, tenants aren’t allowed to withhold rent based on the landlord’s failure to make repairs.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
The court may enter a judgment on the same day as the eviction hearing or at a later date. If the court finds in the landlord’s favor, it will issue a writ of execution immediately unless the tenant files a motion for reconsideration. The sheriff, police officer, bailiff, or constable executes the writ. Only authorized persons are allowed to remove the tenant from the rental property. If the tenant leaves any possessions at the premises, the landlord must store them for 14 days and notify the tenant to get their belongings. After 14 days, the landlord may dispose of the property.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Alabama
If you’re facing eviction in Alabama, you should gather all documents, photos, videos, and other evidence supporting any claims you want to make about the property’s conditions. It’s often a good idea for the tenant to have a municipal building inspector visit the property and issue a report about the property's conditions.
If you can’t appear for your scheduled court date, you should contact the court clerk and ask for a continuance or notify the court that you can’t attend the hearing. Otherwise, you risk a default judgment against you, which means the court has decided you owe the amount the landlord is claiming you owe, and you will be responsible for paying that.
Remember, if you cure your default by catching up on back rent at some point during this process (whether it’s before trial or after the court issues a judgment), be careful about the timing and whether you have paid the court or the landlord. If you’ve cured your default by paying the landlord, make sure you keep a record of your payment.
It’s also important to communicate with your landlord. Be proactive and try to set up an agreement if you’re in default. Good communication is key, even if your lease is about to expire. The mere filing of an eviction can damage your rental history and restrict your opportunities for housing in the future.
Finally, if a landlord files an eviction lawsuit against you, think about ways you can negotiate with your landlord or their attorney. Sometimes, landlords will drop the case if you agree to move out by a specific date. Make sure you vacate the premises and return the keys to the landlord. You may also want to seek legal advice before acting on the eviction notice.
Finally, make sure any agreement you make with your landlord is in writing and signed by both you and your landlord.
Tenant Resources in Alabama
Here is a list of useful links and resources for tenants facing eviction in Alabama: