Alabama Eviction Process
October 4, 2023
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Eviction In Alabama
If you own and rent properties in the state of Alabama, you are responsible for complying with Alabama eviction laws. In this article, we break down each step of the legal eviction process in Alabama.
Alabama’s eviction laws can be found at Ala. Code § 35-9A-421-461.
Eviction Process in Alabama
- Landlord serves a seven-day eviction notice.
- Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court.
- Court serves tenant the summons.
- Tenant files an answer.
- Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment.
- Tenant gets a final notice period to move out.
- Sheriff arrives to forcibly remove the tenant.
In Alabama, tenants can be evicted for material noncompliance with the rental agreement, intentionally lying on their rental application, or failing to maintain the dwelling unit in a way that materially affects health and safety and violates Ala. Code § 35-9A-301. Landlords in Alabama may also terminate the rental agreement and file for eviction is the tenant refuses to allow lawful access to the property (Ala. Code § 35-9A-442(a)).
It’s important to note that if you continue accepting rent from a tenant who is violating the lease agreement, this represents a waiver of your right to terminate the tenancy for that violation (Ala. Code § 35-9A-424). For this reason, it’s especially important to initiate eviction in Alabama as soon as a tenant violates the lease.
1. Landlord Serves a Seven-Day Eviction Notice
If any of the above lease violations occur, the first step in the eviction process is to serve one of the following eviction notices and state that the tenant has seven days to “cure” (fix) the violation:
- Rent Demand Notice: 7 days to pay or quit. If rent is unpaid when due, the landlord must deliver this notice stating the amount of unpaid rent and late fees required to remedy the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate if they are not paid (not less than seven business days after receipt of the notice) (Ala. Code § 35-9A-421(b)).
- Lease Violation Notice: 7 days to cure or quit. If a tenant violates a lease term, the landlord must deliver this notice stating the breach and what is required to remedy it, as well as the date on which the lease will terminate if the tenant does not cure the breach (not less than seven business days after receipt of the notice). No breach can be cured more than two times in any 12-month period except by the express written consent of the landlord (Ala. Code § 35-9A-421(d)).
- Unconditional Notice to Quit: 7 days to quit. This notice gives no opportunity to “cure” the violation and applies if the tenant does any of the following:
- Lies on their rental application.
- Commits substantially the same violation as a previous one for which a notice to terminate was already sent and cured, if the second occurs within six months of the first.
- Handles illegal drugs in the dwelling unit, including making, growing, importing, transporting, selling, possessing, or administering them.
- Handles a firearm illegally on the premises, including making, importing, possessing, furnishing, or discharging any firearm or ammunition (except in cases of self-defense).
- Criminally assaults another tenant or guest on the premises (except in cases of self-defense).
Unconditional notices to quit are uncurable breaches of the rental agreement, so landlords in Alabama need only to send and wait out the seven-day quit notice before filing for eviction (Ala. Code § 35-9A-421(d)).
Distraint for rent is abolished in Alabama, meaning that at no point during the eviction process can the landlord change the locks on the tenant’s unit and sell their belongings to cover overdue rent (Ala. Code § 35-9A-425). For all evictions, however, the landlord may recover actual damages and reasonable attorney fees for the tenant’s noncompliance (Ala. Code § 35-9A-421(a-c)).
2. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court
If the tenant has not cured the breach by the end of the seven days (or if the breach was uncurable and the notice period expires, the landlord can then file a Statement of Claim for Eviction/Unlawful Detainer (the eviction lawsuit) in the Alabama District or Circuit Court. A downloadable copy of this form can be found here. District and circuit courts have jurisdiction over eviction actions in Alabama, which generally get scheduling precedence over other civil cases. Landlords must file in the court located in the same county as the leased property (Ala. Code § 35-9A-461(b)).
The Statement of Claim for Eviction includes:
- The court, county, and case number
- The names and addresses of both the landlord and tenant
- The landlord’s attorney’s information
- The address of the rental unit
- The reason for the eviction or why the tenant no longer has right to possession
- Any monetary damages or unpaid rent the landlord wishes to claim
- The clerk’s address
The landlord will also be required to pay a court filing fee at this time. The amount of the fee varies by court and county, but it is typically around $260.
3. Court Serves Tenant the Summons
The bottom portion of the Statement of Claim for Eviction is a summons to court for the tenant. Once the complaint has been filed, the complaint and the summons are notarized by the county clerk and sent to the sheriff’s office to be served. The summons must be served to the tenant in accordance with the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, meaning it must be delivered by a sheriff, constable, or process server in one of the following manners:
- By hand directly to the tenant
- Delivered to any person residing in the unit and mailed to the tenant’s mailing address via certified first-class mail with a return receipt or certificate
- Posted on the front door of the property (if no person is available) and mailed to the tenant’s mailing address via certified first-class mail with a return receipt or certificate
4. Tenant Files an Answer
After receiving the summons, the tenant has seven days to file a written document called an Answer to Landlord’s Claim with the clerk of court. The Answer to Landlord’s Claim (download a copy here) is a formal response to the case where the tenant may state any defenses or explain the reasons why they believe they should not be evicted. The tenant’s written answer must be mailed to the landlord or landlord’ attorney in addition to being filed with the court. If the tenant files the answer properly, they will receive notice of the date and time of the eviction hearing; if the tenant fails to do so, a default judgment may be entered against them (Ala. Rules of Civ. Proc., Rule 12(dc)).
5. Landlord and Tenant Attend Court Hearing and Receive Judgment
On the day of the eviction hearing, the landlord should bring copies of the lease agreement, the eviction notice with proof of service, the complaint, and any evidence of the lease violation. Both the landlord and tenant will present their cases and any evidence to the judge, who will afterwards issue a judgment.
If the judgment is in the landlord’s favor, a Writ of Restitution or Possession will be issued. The Writ of Restitution or Possession (download a copy here) is the document that authorizes the sheriff to remove the tenant from the property. However, in Alabama, the issuance of the writ is automatically stayed (delayed) for seven days. This effectively gives the tenant seven days to move out after the judgment before the writ issues (Ala. Code § 35-9A-461(e)).
During this seven-day period, the tenant may contest the judgment by filing an appeal. If they choose to do so, the clerk of court will schedule a second trial that will occur within 60 days from the date the appeal was filed. A tenant’s appeal does not prevent the issuance or execution of a writ of restitution (the tenant must still move out within seven days), unless the tenant remedies their violation by paying the clerk all rent due under the lease and continues to do so while the appeal is pending (Ala. Code § 35-9A-461(d)).
If the court originally issued a writ of restitution but the judgment is reversed on appeal, the circuit court may award a new writ of possession to the tenant. The appellate court retains final discretion on issuance of the writ (Ala. Code § 35-9A-461(f)).
6. Tenant Gets a Final Notice Period to Move Out
If the tenant does not move out within the seven-day period, the court will issue the writ of restitution, which the landlord should bring the writ to the sheriff’s office as soon as possible to schedule and pay for the eviction. The sheriff will serve the writ by posting it to the tenant’s unit—this may take several days, depending on how busy the sheriff’s office is and when an officer is available.
Alabama law does not state how soon the sheriff will return to execute the writ after serving it, but tenants are typically given a final notice period to move out, anywhere from 24 hours to a few days. The tenant must remove themselves and all their possessions from the rental unit or they will be forcibly removed (Ala. Code § 35-9A-461(e)).
7. Sheriff Arrives to Forcibly Remove the Tenant
If the tenant still refuses to leave the premises, the sheriff will return to forcibly remove the tenant and restore possession of the property to the landlord. The landlord is then responsible for changing the locks and clearing out any remaining items in the rental unit, which must be stored for 14 days before the landlord can dispose of them (Ala. Code § 35-9A-423(d)).
Evicting a Squatter in Alabama
A squatter is a person who moves into a vacant or abandoned property without getting permission from the owner or paying rent. Squatters can usually be charged as criminal trespassers and be evicted like any other tenant. However, some squatters can receive the right to possession by meeting certain state-determined criteria. In Alabama, squatters must have lived in the property for 20 years (or ten years if they have also paid property taxes) to invoke Alabama squatters rights and claim right of possession (Ala. Code § 6-5-200). Their possession must also be:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease with the owner
- Actual—The squatter must be actively residing on the property
- Open and Notorious—The squatter is openly and obviously living there.
- Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else.
- Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession.
While relatively rare, if a squatter meets all these criteria, they have “color of title”: the right of legal ownership without having a written deed to the property. They can file an action for adverse possession in Alabama to legally obtain the title to the property. However, in most cases, a squatter will not meet the criteria and can be removed. If you think a squatter is living in your vacant property in Alabama, you should:
- Call local law enforcement.
- Determine whether the person is a trespasser or a squatter.
- If the person is a trespasser, they can be removed immediately by a police officer.
- If the person is a squatter, you must contact the sheriff’s office.
- Send the squatter a seven-day notice to quit as per Alabama eviction law.
- If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the seven-day period, file for eviction and follow the typical eviction process.
- Only the sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. You cannot do so, and neither can a police officer.
Alabama Eviction Cost Estimates
How much do evictions cost in Alabama? This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of an eviction in Alabama, according to civil procedure in the state and iPropertyManagement. A highly accurate estimate of an eviction is impossible to provide, as cases and circumstances vary so widely. Remember to factor in other losses due to an eviction as well, such as lost rent, time, and stress.
|Filing fee||~$260; varies by county|
|Service of court summons||Varies by county|
|Issuance of writ of possession||None|
|Service of writ of restitution||Varies by sheriff’s office|
|Notice of Appeal filing fee||$260-$360|
|Average locksmith fees||$160|
|Storage fees for abandoned property||Varies|
|Tenant turnover costs||Varies|
Alabama Eviction Time Estimates
The chart below shows an estimate of the duration of each part of the eviction process. Keep in mind that the length of eviction cases varies widely depending on the complexity of the eviction, the court’s current caseload, and whether or not the tenant contests or appeals the lawsuit.
|Eviction notice period||7 days|
|Service of summons to tenant||≤6 days after complaint is filed|
|Tenant response period||7 days after receiving the summons|
|Eviction hearing||Several weeks|
|Issuance of writ of restitution/ Automatic stay/appeal period||7 days|
|Service of writ of restitution||A few hours to a few days|
|Final notice period after writ is posted||Unspecified|
|Appeal trial (if applicable)||≤60 days|
- Statement of Claim for Eviction/Unlawful Detainer
- Answer to Landlord’s Claim
- Writ of Restitution or Possession
- Alabama Courts Fee Distribution Chart – This chart lists the fees and costs required for various court actions and services in Alabama.
- Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure – The specific rules of civil procedure and court policies in Alabama.
The eviction process in any state can be long and complex, so hiring an eviction attorney is advised in most cases. It’s also important to note that municipalities and local governments often have stricter laws and requirements for landlords, so be sure to check local statutes as well as state ones. However, by reviewing the legal procedures and Alabama laws on eviction, you can feel more confident pursuing an eviction in this state.
Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information.