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Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in Kentucky

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In a Nutshell

Landlords in Kentucky 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 Kentucky.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated November 17, 2021

Facing eviction in Kentucky can be confusing and stressful. The exact rules and procedures vary based on the reason your landlord wants to evict you and where you live. To help explain how Kentucky evictions work, we created the following article. It covers the basics of Kentucky’s eviction laws and the rights tenants and renters have in this commonwealth. This article will be most useful if your landlord wants to evict you for being behind on rent or if your lease is about to expire or terminate.

What Is Eviction? 

Often referred to as a “forcible detainer” in Kentucky, eviction is the legal process landlords use to remove a tenant or renter from their property. Like other states, Kentucky has special rules and procedures in place dictating how an eviction should occur. Certain cities and counties in Kentucky have adopted the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) while most of the state follows different statutes. Both types of evictions will be discussed in this article. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant through means not permitted by the URLTA or other Kentucky law, the eviction is illegal.

Who Can Be Evicted in Kentucky

Most evictions occur between two parties that have entered into a landlord-tenant relationship. This is created when a landlord and tenant agree that the tenant can live on a property in return for paying rent. Often, this relationship is formalized in a written lease or rental agreement. Individuals who are living with a tenant but aren’t on the lease can still be evicted along with the tenant. 

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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Kentucky? 

The vast majority of evictions will occur for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Nonpayment of rent or being late with rent.

  • Significant lease violations, other than the requirement to pay rent.

  • The lease ends, whether through termination or expiration.

The eviction process will be largely the same regardless of the reasons for the eviction. Most differences will be small and concern how much notice a tenant gets before getting evicted. But the eviction process can differ depending on the rules and procedures in place in a particular county or local jurisdiction. There may also be differences based on whether or not URLTA applies.

Late, Short, or Behind on Rent? 

Rent is late when it’s not paid in full on or by the due date. This means your rent is late even if you’re dropping it off with the leasing office just one day after your rent is due. Despite this rule, many leases offer grace periods of at least a few days. A grace period allows you to turn in your rent after its due date, and it’s still considered on time.

Lease Expiration or Termination

Even if a renter hasn’t breached the lease and is willing and capable of paying rent, they may still be evicted. This might happen if the lease expires. That means it ends without the landlord agreeing to renew or extend it. A lease can also end early because the landlord terminates it. A landlord can only terminate a lease for certain reasons. They’ll usually do it because the tenant has breached one of the terms in the lease.

The Kentucky Eviction Process 

Evictions in Kentucky must follow certain steps to be legal. The following sections outline the process.

What do most landlords have to do to begin an eviction?

If the eviction is the result of nonpayment of rent, the lease expiring, or the tenant breaching the lease, the landlord must give written notice per the terms of the lease. If there’s no lease or the lease doesn’t state how much notice is required, then the landlord must give the tenant a 30-day notice stating that they must either move out or face an eviction lawsuit. 

What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction under the URLTA?

Tenants get seven days’ written notice if the eviction is because of the nonpayment of rent. But if the eviction is the result of a breach of the lease, then the tenant gets 14 days’ notice and the opportunity to cure the lease violation (fix the issue) by the 15th day after receiving notice.

For evictions based on the termination or expiration of a lease, tenants are entitled to notice according to the following requirements:

  • Week-to-week tenancy: at least seven days’ notice.

  • Month-to-month tenancy: at least 30 days’ notice.

  • Tenancy renewed at the end of a written lease: at least 10 days’ notice, unless the reason for the notice is because the tenant has failed to pay rent within 10 days after the day it became due. In that case, no notice is required.

What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court? 

If the tenant hasn’t addressed the reason for the eviction or moved out by the deadline imposed by the eviction notice, the landlord can begin the eviction process. This requires the landlord to file a Forcible Detainer Complaint with the small claims court that’s located in the same jurisdiction as the rental unit.

The court will then issue a Writ of Forcible Detainer, which is similar to a summons. (This is also called a Notice of Eviction Hearing Trial by the court). This will tell the tenant that they’re being sued and notify them of the scheduled eviction hearing date. This must be served on the tenant at least three days before the hearing date. Generally speaking, service may be made by either:

  • A sheriff’s deputy or constable hand-delivering the documents to the tenant, or

  • The landlord mailing the documents via certified or registered mail.

In some cases, the Writ of Forcible Detainer can also be mailed via first class mail along with being posted in plain view at the premises.

The court hearing will be the tenant’s opportunity to challenge the landlord’s eviction. If the tenant doesn’t appear, they risk having a default judgment entered against them. A default judgment means you lose the case because you didn’t show up in court. 

In some other states, the first eviction court hearing is procedural and the actual eviction trial happens later. But in Kentucky, this is the first and only hearing where the landlord will present their case explaining why the tenant should be evicted and where the tenant can assert any affirmative defenses or counterclaims.

Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims

You won’t be required to file an answer, objection, or other response to the landlord’s Forcible Detainer Complaint. But you must be ready to present your defenses at the eviction hearing. Your defenses will typically be either an affirmative defense or a counterclaim.

An affirmative defense is a legal defense you raise on your own. It can prevent the landlord from getting an eviction. For instance, a landlord can evict you for breaching the terms of your lease. But under URLTA, if the landlord knew the breach existed, said nothing, and continued to accept your rent payments, they can’t argue that you should be evicted for that particular breach of the lease. If you made this argument in court, it would be a type of affirmative defense.

Counterclaims are legal claims that are separate from the eviction. For example, under URLTA, a tenant is entitled to damages equal to three months’ rent (plus attorney’s fees) if the landlord illegally tries to evict them or uses improper means to do so, like turning off their utilities. If you wanted to make this argument, you wouldn’t raise it as an affirmative defense. Instead, you would bring it as a counterclaim.

Whether you decide to raise an affirmative defense or bring a counterclaim, you’ll need evidence to support your claim(s). This means getting photographs, video, receipts, a copy of your lease, or eyewitnesses to help support your claims in court.

What Happens After an Eviction Trial?

The eviction trial only addresses whether the landlord is entitled to evict you or not. If the landlord wants to also recover monetary damages for back rent or property damage, they’ll have to file a separate complaint in small claims court to do that.

If the judge finds in favor of the landlord, you can appeal. You have seven days after the judgment is entered to file an appeal. In addition to filing the necessary documents, you’ll also need to make a deposit with the circuit court clerk. The deposit will be equal to any back rent amount claimed by the landlord. On top of that, you’ll need to deposit all future rents with the court, as they become due during the appeals process. During the appeal, the eviction is stayed, meaning you can continue living at the property until the appeal finishes. This is why those deposits are required.

If you don’t file an appeal, you’ll have to move out of the property after the landlord wins. If you don’t move out, then seven days after the hearing, the landlord can ask the court for a Warrant for Possession. This will allow them to get a sheriff’s deputy or constable to physically remove you and your belongings from the rental unit.

Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Kentucky

To increase your chances of successfully fighting an eviction or make the eviction process go as painlessly as possible, there are several pointers you should consider.

  • Be as proactive as possible about gathering evidence to use in the eviction proceeding. You may get served as few as three days before your court date. This isn’t much time to identify and compile necessary evidence, especially if you want to ask someone to testify on your behalf. The moment you know you’re at risk of eviction, start gathering evidence and contacting anyone who can help present your defenses. If one of your defenses concerns the condition of the rental property, you’ll want to contact a municipal building inspector to visit the property and document its condition.

  • Don’t skip the eviction hearing. Even if you’ve accepted that eviction is inevitable, it’s best to appear at the hearing so you can be aware of any deadlines or requirements you must meet. And if you want to contest the eviction, not showing up means you’re likely to lose your case through a default judgment. 

If you have no realistic way of appearing at the hearing, contact the court and let them know. They might reschedule it for you. And if they can’t, at least the judge will know that you couldn’t appear and why. This makes it far less likely the judge will enter a default judgment for the landlord.

  • Make sure to document. If you plan on curing/addressing any lease breach and want to continue living at the property, make sure you properly document when and how you fixed the lease violation. This might include getting pictures, receipts, or invoices that can prove what you did to address the reason for the eviction.

  • Maintain good communication with your landlord. If you have to find a new place to stay, keeping things civil between you and your landlord will make it easier to get a positive (or at least, less negative) reference. Also, good communication could help make an agreement with your landlord.

Maybe they’ll be willing to give you extra time to make up past-due rent payments. Or perhaps they’ll agree to drop the eviction case in return for you agreeing to move out by a certain time. Even though you’ll have to find a new place to live, not having an eviction in your rental history will help you find housing in the future. If you do reach an agreement with your landlord, make sure it’s in writing and both you and your landlord (or their representative, like a property manager) have signed it.

  • Take advantage of available resources. Eviction cases are a common challenge that many Kentuckians face. So there are many nonprofit organizations and tenant’s rights lawyers who are willing to help. Some of these resources are free or available at a reduced cost. An attorney can offer legal advice to help you better understand your legal protections during the eviction process. A lawyer or nonprofit organization can let you know what the eligibility requirements are for any available emergency rental assistance programs.

Tenant Resources in Kentucky

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