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Eviction Laws and Tenant Rights in South Carolina

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In a Nutshell

Landlords in South Carolina 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 South Carolina.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated December 27, 2021


Eviction is a legal process landlords can use to remove tenants from a rental property in South Carolina. Eviction occurs after you lease property from a landlord and you fail to follow the terms of the lease. This includes failing to pay rent or doing something that the lease prohibits. If you’re facing an eviction, it can be a scary time. But knowing the steps in the process and what your rights are can calm your fears and help you figure out how to proceed.

This article explains the eviction process in the Gamecock State. We’ll discuss what landlords are legally required to do to evict renters from a leased property in South Carolina. We’ll also provide some tips to help you prevent an eviction. If you live in government-assisted housing, you may have more rights than explained here.

What Is Eviction?

Eviction is the legal procedure landlords use to remove a tenant from a rental property. Even if your landlord has a good and legal reason to evict you, they must follow the law. The law helps ensure that as a tenant, you’re treated fairly. In most cases, your landlord must give you a chance to fix or address the issue leading to the eviction. This is true whether you violated a term of the lease or failed to pay rent when due.  

Your landlord must file a lawsuit in a South Carolina court to have you legally evicted. Your landlord can’t legally force you to leave any other way. This includes turning off the power, changing the locks, or moving your property outside. South Carolina landlords must have a court order to evict you or the eviction is an illegal eviction or illegal lockout. 

Who Can Be Evicted in South Carolina?

Only tenants may be evicted by landlords. The eviction process may be used only when a landlord-tenant relationship exists. A tenant is a person who’s made an agreement with a landlord to rent housing. Generally, people living with a tenant can also be evicted, even if they’re not on the lease.

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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in South Carolina? 

There are three reasons that a landlord can evict you from a rental property in South Carolina.

  • If you’re short, late, or behind on rent. 

  • If the lease term expires and won’t be renewed. 

  • If you breach a lease term other than the requirement to pay rent. 

Even if it isn’t written in your lease, you must keep the premises free of any health or safety hazards. If you don’t, the landlord may give you a written notice telling you that you have 14 days to remove these hazards or pay for any property damages. If you refuse, your landlord may evict you. 

You can also be evicted for engaging in certain activities on the property, whether your lease agreement specifically says so or not. Essentially, the property can’t be used as anything other than a living space unless your lease permits it. You can’t allow the property to be used for criminal activity or you may be evicted. 

The eviction process is the same whether you’re being evicted for nonpayment of rent or breaching a different lease term. The difference is the notice period that the landlord is required to give you as a tenant. 

Late, Short, or Behind on Rent? 

South Carolina law states that you only have five days from when the rent is due to pay it before your landlord can start eviction proceedings. Before your landlord can try to evict you for not paying your rent, they must give you written notice. The eviction notice must tell you that your lease will be terminated if you don’t pay the back rent within five days of the due date. Your landlord doesn’t have to send you the written notice about late rent if they put the five-day notice in your lease or if they have already given you one five-day notice during your lease term.

Lease Expiration or Termination

In South Carolina, landlords can evict a tenant after the landlord has terminated the lease or if the lease has expired. In both cases, the landlord is alleging that the tenant no longer has the right to live in the property, regardless of their status on paying rent.

Every lease, whether written or verbal, will be for a certain term or period. For example, one-year leases are common. If you don’t leave at the end of the term and you haven’t renewed your lease, your landlord can file an eviction case against you, even if you’ve paid all the rent due.

Your lease expires when the lease term ends, but if your landlord has legal grounds to end the lease before it expires, they can terminate the lease. Your landlord can terminate your lease and try to evict you if you don’t follow the rules of the lease and the law. The lease’s rules and regulations must be reasonable. Most requirements to keep the property clean or the premises safe are considered reasonable. Even if you think a rule in your lease might be illegal, the landlord may still enforce the rest of the lease against you.

If your rental agreement expires or is terminated and you remain in the rental (remain in possession) without the landlord's consent, they can file an eviction lawsuit. In legal terms, this is called bringing an action for possession. Staying in the unit is called being a holdover. If your holdover isn’t in good faith, the landlord can sue you to evict you and they may be able to recover reasonable attorney's fees. 

If your holdover is a willful violation of South Carolina law or the rental agreement, the landlord may also be awarded damages by the court. They may be awarded the value of three months’ rent or twice the actual damages they sustained, whichever is greater.

The South Carolina Eviction Process 

This is a basic overview of the general process for residential evictions, which are known as ejectment proceedings in South Carolina. 

What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?

A landlord must give the notice required by South Carolina law before they can start the eviction process. If the reason for eviction is the nonpayment of rent, they must give you a five-day eviction notice. If the following provision is in the lease, then a landlord isn’t required to give any further notice.

"IF YOU DO NOT PAY YOUR RENT ON TIME

This is your notice. If you do not pay your rent within five days of the due date, the landlord can start to have you evicted. You will get no other notice as long as you live in this rental unit."

If this is in your written rental agreement and you don’t pay rent within five days of the due date, the landlord can begin the eviction process without further notice.

If your landlord wants to evict you for violation of a term of the lease other than nonpayment of rent, they must give you 14 days’ notice. If you don’t address the violation of the lease term within the 14-day period, the landlord can proceed with the eviction proceedings. If the remedy for any lease violation can’t be completed within 14 days, but the work is started within the 14-day period and pursued in good faith to completion within a reasonable time, your landlord can’t terminate your lease.

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

In South Carolina, a landlord can recover their damages and get an injunction to stop you from engaging in any activity that is illegal or a breach of the lease. 

The landlord files a lawsuit.

The first step in the eviction process requires a landlord to apply for a Rule or Order to Show Cause. It’s called a rule or order depending on the court where the landlord applies for it. When issued by a South Carolina court, it orders you to vacate the premises or to show cause (or a reason) for why you shouldn’t be ejected. 

As a tenant, you have 10 days after being served with a copy of this order to move out or appear in court and contest the ejectment proceedings. In some South Carolina counties, you must request a hearing to make an appearance. In other counties, the hearing is set when your landlord applies for the rule or Order to Show Cause.

The landlord serves the tenant.

The landlord must have a sheriff, constable, or someone over 18 unrelated to the case serve the Order to Show Cause on the tenant. If they try to personally serve you two times and are unsuccessful, they can leave a copy of the order in a visible place on the premises or mail it to you (so long as the court verifies it) to complete service. If the landlord mails the order, the service requirement is met after 10 days have passed from the date they mailed the summons.

If the landlord meets these service requirements, the 10 days for you to show cause and explain why you shouldn’t be ejected begins on the 11th day after mailing or on the day you contact the court if you contact prior to the 11th day. 

If you haven’t paid your rent, you’ve been gone from the unit for 15 days after the rent is due, and you haven’t communicated with your landlord, the landlord can consider the rental unit abandoned. In that case, the law says a copy of the Order to Show Cause may simply be posted on your door.

The tenant answers the order and appears for the hearing.

If you answer the order by appearing and contesting the ejectment, a South Carolina court will hear the case and make a judgment or ruling on the case. The case will be heard by a jury if either party demands a jury trial. Otherwise, it will be heard by a judge. If the tenant fails to appear and show cause within the 10-day period, the court will award the landlord a default judgment. This means the court has ruled in your landlord’s favor. The court can then issue a warrant of ejectment and the sheriff or constable will evict you.

If the landlord terminates the rental agreement, they not only have the right to take the property back (the right to possession), they may also be able to request past-due rent, damages, and attorney’s fees from the court.

Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims

If you want to show cause and stop the eviction, you’ll need to raise a defense. In a simple defense, you deny the landlord’s claim against you. In an affirmative defense, you agree with the landlord’s claim but provide a reason or justification for the action. For example, if the landlord claims you haven’t paid rent, an affirmative defense could be that you didn’t pay rent but it was because you used the money to make a repair the landlord refused to make.

You can also assert a counterclaim against the landlord. This won’t stop an eviction proceeding, but it’s a way for you to bring an action for damages against the landlord. If your landlord wrongfully terminates your lease, you can sue them for damages.

Most affirmative defenses or counterclaims in landlord-tenant disputes are related to the conditions of the property. This may be that the landlord has breached a term of the lease agreement and/or breached the implied warranty of habitability, which requires landlords to keep their properties safe and liveable. 

If your landlord has filed an eviction case for the nonpayment of rent, you may rely on the rental agreement or South Carolina law to assert defenses and any counterclaims. If the defense or counterclaim lacks merit and is not raised in good faith, the landlord may recover reasonable attorney's fees.

If your landlord has brought an eviction lawsuit against you for not paying rent and you want to raise a defense related to the landlord’s duty to maintain a safe and liveable rental, you must follow certain guidelines. 

  • You need to give the landlord notice of the violation of their duties 14 days before the rent is due. This is if the landlord has violated South Carolina law regarding promised services at the rental. 

  • For essential services and emergency repairs, you must give the landlord notice and a reasonable opportunity to make necessary repairs before the rent is due. 

If you don’t follow these guidelines, you waive your right to raise either as a defense in an eviction proceeding. 

What Happens After an Eviction Trial?

If the court rules in the landlord’s favor, it will issue a writ of ejectment within five days of the ruling. After the court renders a judgment, either party may file an appeal. Filing an appeal can postpone the eviction until the appeal is heard. To do this successfully as a tenant, you’ll need to pay an appeal bond to the court. The court will set the amount of the bond, which covers all costs and damages that the landlord may sustain as the result of an appeal. If you fail to file the bond within five days after service of the notice of appeal, the trial court will dismiss the appeal.

After a South Carolina court issues a writ of ejectment, tenants have 24 hours to leave the premises voluntarily. After that, the sheriff or constable will physically evict you. 

Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in South Carolina

There are many resources available to help fight an eviction. There are even rent payment delay options that can buy you some time to solve the problem. You can also talk to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney. Here are some other tips:

  • Collect evidence to support any affirmative defenses or counterclaims you want to assert against your landlord. This includes written documentation, photographs, videos, and anything else that will support your claims about the property's condition and the landlord’s failure to meet their legal obligations. You can even ask a county or municipal building inspector to visit the property and make an official report about its condition.

  • If you can’t appear in court for any scheduled court appearance, including the hearing to show cause, contact the court and request a continuance. A continuance postpones and reschedules the hearing. If you fail to contest the Order to Show cause within 10 days, you will lose by default, and the court will issue a warrant of ejectment.

  • It's important to maintain a civil relationship with your landlord. Good communication with your landlord and can help later if the possibility of an eviction arises. An eviction action can remain on your rental history and negatively affect your chances of renting housing in the future. 

If your landlord initiates an eviction, try to negotiate a settlement that may help you pay the delinquent rent and remain in the property or at least allow you to move out in a reasonable time. Always make sure that any agreement with your landlord is in writing and your landlord signs it.

Tenant Resources in South Carolina

There are many nonprofit and governmental organizations that offer free resources to South Carolina renters.

On August 26, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Eviction Moratorium resulting from the coronavirus pandemic ended. There is no longer any federal ban on evictions in the United States. South Carolina renters can keep up with current eviction information on the CDC Eviction Moratorium Updates page from the Appleseed Legal Justice Center.



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