Landlords in Oklahoma 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 Oklahoma.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 30, 2021
Facing eviction is stressful, and the Oklahoma eviction process can be hard to understand. In this article, we’ll explain the eviction process and provide an overview of Oklahoma laws governing eviction. This includes discussing the rights and protections Oklahomans have as tenants or renters. You’ll find this article most useful if you want to fight the eviction and your landlord is threatening to evict you because your lease is about to end or you’re behind on rent.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the legal process for a landlord to remove a tenant or renter from a piece of real property. Because the tenant has a legal right to be on the property, the landlord can’t remove a tenant unless they first get permission from the court. This permission typically comes in the form of a court order. If the landlord removes a renter or tenant without first getting the court’s permission, the landlord will be conducting an illegal eviction.
To get an eviction order from the court in Oklahoma, landlords must abide by Oklahoma’s Landlord and Tenant Act. This identifies the justifications for eviction and the steps a landlord must follow to get an eviction.
Who Can Be Evicted in Oklahoma?
Most evictions only happen in situations where there’s a landlord-tenant relationship. This is a legally recognized relationship that’s created when a landowner and renter enter into a contract that outlines the terms and responsibilities of each party. At a minimum, the tenant agrees to pay rent in return for legal permission to use real property like a home or apartment unit. In most tenancies, this contract takes the form of a written rental agreement or lease.
The one major exception to the landlord-tenant relationship requirement is where someone is living with the tenant, but isn’t part of the lease. In this situation, as a general rule, these roommates are also subject to eviction, along with the tenant.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Oklahoma?
There are four primary reasons a landlord can evict a tenant in Oklahoma:
The tenant is late, short, or behind on rent.
The tenant violates a provision in the lease, not including the requirement to pay rent.
The landlord ends the lease.
The tenant engages in certain illegal acts.
The eviction process is largely the same for each of these reasons, but the eviction notice requirements may differ.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
In Oklahoma, rent is late when it’s not paid on its due date. But many rental agreements have grace periods of several days that allow tenants to pay their rent without incurring late fees or risking eviction.
Lease Expiration or Termination
If a lease ends, landlords may evict a tenant that doesn’t leave. Most leases end in one of two ways:
The lease expires and the landlord refuses to extend or renew it. Even if the tenant can pay rent and hasn’t committed a lease violation, the landlord can still evict the tenant once the lease is over.
The landlord terminates the lease early. This typically occurs if the tenant violates a term in the lease. Then with the lease terminated, the landlord can proceed to evict the tenant.
The Oklahoma Eviction Process
Evictions can take place for both residential and commercial properties. But the following sections focus only on residential evictions in Oklahoma.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
Before a landlord can evict a tenant, they must first provide written notice. The amount of notice will depend on the reason(s) for the eviction.
To evict a tenant for unpaid or past-due rent, the landlord must provide five days’ notice. During those five days, the tenant must either leave the premises or pay the past-due rent. If neither occurs, the landlord can start an eviction action.
If the landlord wants to evict a tenant because the current lease is ending or there’s a tenancy at will then the notice requirements are as follows:
For a month-to-month tenancy or a tenancy at will, the landlord must provide a 30-day notice to the tenant. A tenancy at will is a tenancy with no definite end to the lease.
For tenancies that are less than month-to-month (this is where the time between rental payments is less than a month), the landlord must give the tenant seven days’ notice.
If the tenancy is for a definite term, such as with a 12-month lease, the landlord isn’t required to give notice since the tenant already knows the lease ends at the end of the lease’s term.
Landlords that want to evict a tenant for violating the lease terms must provide 15 days’ notice. But the tenant will have 10 days to cure the breach and prevent the landlord from terminating the lease.
If a tenant engages in certain illegal activities, the landlord isn’t required to give notice prior to starting the eviction. Illegal behaviors that can result in eviction without notice include:
Crimes that threaten the safety or “right of peaceful enjoyment” of the other tenants at the property.
Drug-related criminal activity.
This illegal activity includes the tenant’s actions and the actions of an individual in the tenant’s household or who are under the tenant’s control.
The landlord needs to properly serve any of the above notices on the tenant. Simply sending a text or telling the tenant in person won’t be sufficient. Instead, the landlord must provide a copy of the notice by either:
Personally serving the tenant,
Handing a copy to a person over 12 years of age who lives at the property, or
Posting a copy in a visible place at the rental property and mailing a copy to the tenant via registered mail to the tenant’s last known address.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
The actual eviction action doesn’t begin until the landlord files an eviction lawsuit. This is also called a forcible entry and detainer action. The eviction lawsuit starts with the landlord going to either small claims court or district court (if the landlord is seeking monetary damages that exceed a certain amount) and filing a complaint. The complaint lists the reasons for the eviction and identifies any supporting facts.
After filing the complaint, the court issues a summons. This explains that the tenant is getting sued and contains the time and court date for the eviction hearing. The landlord must serve a copy of the complaint and summons on the tenant at least three days before the eviction hearing. Generally speaking, service is complete when:
A sheriff’s deputy personally serves the tenant or someone living at the rental property who’s at least 16 years old; or
The landlord mails a copy via certified mail with a return receipt.
If none of the above methods work, the tenant can be served by a sheriff’s deputy posting a copy of the complaint and summons at the rental property along with the landlord mailing the documents to the tenant’s last known address via certified mail with return receipt. But there are several limitations to this “post and mail” method of service.
First, it only grants the court jurisdiction to decide the eviction matter, assuming the tenant doesn’t appear in court. The court can’t award the landlord any monetary damages unless the tenant shows up at the eviction hearing. In other words, if a tenant doesn’t show up for the eviction hearing, the landlord may be able to get a default judgment that grants the eviction. But the court won’t issue a default monetary judgment for something like past rent. A default judgment is a legal victory when one of the parties doesn’t show up in court or otherwise respond to the allegations from the opposing party.
Second, the “post and mail” method of service must be completed at least five days before the eviction hearing, not three days.
After getting served, the tenant can respond to the complaint and summons by filing an answer. This is a legal document that contains the tenants’ response to the landlord’s allegations. A tenant isn’t required to file an answer and may instead assert their defenses to the eviction when they go to the eviction hearing.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
You have two primary methods of presenting defenses to a landlord’s eviction. The first method is the affirmative defense. This is a legal defense that you must raise yourself — the court won’t do it for you. It directly attacks the reasons for the eviction. An example of an affirmative defense is that the landlord didn’t provide you a five-day notice before trying to evict you for the nonpayment of rent. If the court accepts this defense, the landlord must start the eviction process all over again.
The second method of defending against eviction is to file a counterclaim. A counterclaim is a legal action that’s separate from the eviction, but it may involve facts or arguments related to the eviction. For instance, if you’re being evicted for the nonpayment of rent, you might file a counterclaim saying you didn’t pay rent because the landlord didn’t take steps to properly maintain the apartment’s utilities. In this situation, a successful counterclaim won’t stop the eviction, but it could help you recover monetary damages from the landlord.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
At the eviction court hearing, the landlord will explain why they think the court should evict you. This will include providing evidence to the court, most likely in the form of testimony and documents. You then have a chance to refute these allegations with affirmative defenses and/or counterclaims. You’ll also have to provide evidence to support your claims.
If the court finds in the landlord’s favor, the landlord may request a writ of execution. If granted, this gives you at least two days to move out of the rental unit. You may ask the judge to delay the eviction to give you more time to move out. But there’s no guarantee the judge will grant your request.
If you disagree with the court’s decision, you can ask the court for a new trial. You must make this request within three days of the judgment being issued, and it won’t stop the landlord from evicting you. You could also file an appeal. Because most eviction cases are heard in a small claims court, you’ll most likely file an appeal to the district court. You have 30 days from the small claims court’s entry of judgment to file this appeal.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Oklahoma
Fighting an eviction isn’t always easy. It often requires more than simply stating your case to the judge. You can increase the chances of the court accepting your defenses by having evidence to support your case. When you get served with the eviction notice, you won’t have much time before your trial. So you should quickly begin gathering any documents, pictures, videos, and other pieces of evidence that can help you fight the landlord’s attempt to evict you.
If part of your defense relates to the condition of the rental property, consider getting in touch with a municipal building inspector to visit where you live to create a report about the property’s conditions.
If you can’t come to the eviction hearing scheduled on the summons, contact the court as soon as possible to ask them for a continuance. If the court grants the continuance, it may reschedule the hearing for a different day that better accommodates your schedule. If you don’t appear at your hearing, you risk the court entering default judgment against you. Even if the court doesn’t grant a continuance, it’s still a good idea to ask. That’s because it informs the court that you won’t appear and makes it less likely the judge will enter a default judgment against you when you’re absent in court.
No matter what you intend to do concerning your eviction, try to maintain a good line of communication with your landlord or their representative (like a property manager or attorney). This will make the eviction process go more smoothly and could help you create an agreement with your landlord outside of court.
You may be able to get your landlord to agree to give you more time to become current on rent or remedy a breach of the lease. Or perhaps your landlord will agree to drop the eviction case against you if you promise to move out by a certain time. This might not sound like a benefit to you, but if getting kicked out of your home is inevitable, keeping an eviction from showing up in your rental history will make it easier to find another apartment.
During the eviction process, document everything. If you and your landlord reach an agreement, make sure it’s put into writing and you and your landlord (or their representative) sign it. If you can stop the eviction by fulfilling certain conditions such as curing a breach or paying back rent, take careful note of what you must do to abide by these conditions and how to prove you’ve complied with them. For example, make sure you get dated receipts from your landlord if you make extra rent payments.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the various resources available to tenants. Evictions are a common legal challenge, so there are various nonprofit groups, tenant’s rights lawyers, and legal aid organizations in place to help you with the eviction process. They may also let you know about emergency rental assistance programs that are available.