State Evictions

North Carolina Eviction Process

November 8, 2023

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Eviction In North Carolina

If you own and rent properties in the state of North Carolina, you are responsible for complying with North Carolina eviction laws. In this article, we break down each step of the legal eviction process in North Carolina. 

North Carolina’s eviction laws can be found at NCGS § 42. 

Eviction Process in North Carolina 

  1. Landlord serves an eviction notice. 
  1. Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court. 
  1. Court serves tenant a summons. 
  1. Tenant files an answer. 
  1. Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment. 
  1. Tenant gets up to five days to move out. 
  1. Sheriff returns to forcibly remove the tenant. 

In North Carolina, “summary ejectment” (eviction) can be initiated when a tenant fails to pay rent, holds over after the lease has ended, violates a condition of the lease, or engages in criminal activity on the premises. 

1. Landlord Serves an Eviction Notice 

If any of the above lease violations occur, the landlord must first serve a North Carolina eviction notice and state that the tenant has the appropriate number of days to remedy or cure the violation. There are three possible eviction notices North Carolina landlords may send: 

  • Rent Demand Notice: 10 days to pay or quit. If rent is unpaid when due, the landlord must deliver this notice stating the amount of unpaid rent required to remedy the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate if it is not paid (not less than ten days after receipt of the notice) (NCGS § 42-3). 
  • Lease Violation Notice: Unspecified. If a tenant violates another lease term or holds over after the lease expires, the landlord must deliver a notice stating the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate (NCGS § 42-26, 27). 
  • Unconditional Notice to Quit: Unspecified. This notice gives no opportunity to “cure” the violation and applies when a tenant commits illegal activity on the premises. This could include: 
    • Any criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right of peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents. 
    • The use of the leased premises in any way to promote criminal activity. 
    • Criminal activity by the tenant, their family member, or their guest anywhere on or in the immediate vicinity of the premises. 
    • Giving permission to or inviting a person onto the premises who has previously been removed and/or barred by the landlord. 

Tenants guilty of a crime under this notice can be removed via an expedited eviction process in North Carolina. 

For all summary ejectment actions, the landlord may recover actual damages and reasonable attorney’s fees. 

2. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court 

The next step of the North Carolina eviction process is filing a complaint with the court. If the tenant has not cured the breach by the end of the notice period (or if the violation is uncurable and the notice period expires), the landlord should file a Complaint in Summary Ejectment (downloadable here) with the clerk of the North Carolina Civil Magistrate’s Court, otherwise known as small claims court.  

If the landlord is suing for more than $10,000, however, they’ll need to file in the North Carolina District or Superior Court. Cases based on illegal activity under Article 7 must also be brought in or appealed to the district court. At the time of filing, the landlord will need to pay a filing fee ($96 in civil magistrate’s court; $150 in district court).  

The complaint includes the following: 

  • The names and contact information of both parties 
  • A description of the premises, including its address 
  • The type of housing 
  • The rent rate and due date 
  • The type of lease (oral or written) 
  • The reason for eviction with a description 
  • The amount of damage (if any) 
  • The landlord’s signature 

3. Court Serves Tenant a Summons 

Next, the court will issue a summons to be served to the tenant with a copy of the complaint. The summons will demand the tenant’s presence at a court hearing no more than seven days from the issuance date of the summons, excluding weekends and holidays (NCGS § 42-28). 

If the case is an expedited eviction for illegal activity which was filed initially in the district court, the hearing will be held within 30 days of the issuance of the summons (NCGS § 42-68). 

North Carolina law requires landlords to serve the summons in one of the following ways:  

  1. By mailing it with a copy of the complaint by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, and preparing and filing a sworn statement with the clerk of superior court with the receipt to prove that service was made. 
  1. By paying the sheriff a fee to serve the summons and complaint. 

If the sheriff serves the summons, they must mail a copy no later than the end of the next business day. Within five days of issuance, the officer may also call the tenant requesting that they visit the office to accept service or schedule an appointment to receive delivery. If both of these attempts are unsuccessful, the officer will visit the rental within five days (but at least two days prior to the court hearing) to attempt personal delivery of service. The sheriff can leave a copy at the property with a person of suitable age and discretion living there or post a copy to a conspicuous part of the premises (NCGS § 42-29). 

The landlord also needs to pay all court costs in advance at this time. The tenant will be responsible for these costs if the landlord wins the case. 

4. Tenant Files an Answer 

Tenants in the civil magistrate court of North Carolina are not required to file a written answer, but they may do so any time before the hearing to present a defense to the claim or a counterclaim. If they do so, a copy will be given to the landlord. However, even if a tenant files a written answer, they still have to attend the hearing before the magistrate to defend their case. 

For evictions held in district court, tenants are required to file a written answer within 20 days of receiving the summons (NCGS § 42-68). 

The tenant can also request a continuance of the hearing by showing good cause. If the continuance is granted, it must not be more than five days, unless both parties agree otherwise (Complaint in Summary Ejectment Instructions to Plaintiff). 

5. Landlord and Tenant Attend Court Hearing and Receive Judgment 

On the day of the eviction hearing, North Carolina landlords should bring copies of the lease agreement, the eviction notice with proof of service, the complaint, and any evidence of the lease violation. For nonpayment cases, the landlord may request an immediate judgment if any of the following applies: 

  • The landlord proves his case by a preponderance of evidence. 
  • The tenant admits all the allegations in the landlord’s complaint. 
  • The tenant fails to attend the hearing. 

If one of the above circumstances occurs, the tenant has not filed a responsive pleading, and the magistrate agrees, the court will grant a judgment immediately and order the tenant to move out and pay the necessary court costs (NCGS § 42-30). 

If none of the above circumstances apply, the hearing will continue. 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, the court will issue a Writ of Possession (downloadable here), authorizing the tenant’s removal, after ten days

The tenant is allowed to appeal to the district court during the ten-day period after the trial before the writ is issued. During the time that the appeal is pending, the tenant can stay the judgment’s execution (and remain in the unit) as long as they pay any rent in arrears to the clerk of superior court and signs a document promising to pay future rent as it becomes due periodically (NCGS § 42-34(b)). If the jury finds that the appeal was without merit, the landlord will be entitled to the amount of rent in arrears as well as all damages assessed (NCGS § 42-32). 

6.  Tenant Gets Up to Five Days to Move Out 

Once the writ of possession is issued, it must be directed to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff will serve a copy to the tenant at the rental unit, explaining that the writ will be executed no more than five days later. The tenant must move out within the five-day period (NCGS § 42-36.2).  

This final notice period does not apply for evictions based on illegal activity, which are expedited. As soon as the sheriff’s office receives the writ of possession, they will remove the tenant immediately. 

7.  Sheriff Returns to Forcibly Remove the Tenant 

If the tenant does not move out, the sheriff will return by the date listed on the writ to forcibly remove the tenant from the property and restore possession to the landlord. 

The sheriff will typically remove the tenant’s property from the unit as well, unless the landlord signs a statement saying it can remain on the premises (in which case the sheriff will simply lock the premises) or the landlord decides not to eject the tenant because they have satisfied their debt and paid all court costs (NCGS § 42-36.2(a)). 

Storage Rules 

If the tenant fails or refuses to reclaim their personal belongings after an eviction, the sheriff may move them to any storage warehouse in the county and require the landlord to advance the cost of delivery plus one month’s storage. If the landlord refuses to pay these storage costs, the sheriff will not remove the tenant’s property or execute the writ.  

If the landlord does pay the storage costs, they are obligated to let the tenant reclaim their belongings within seven days of the writ’s execution. The landlord must provide notice informing the tenant that their property is being temporarily stored by delivering a written notice to the tenant at least two days before the writ is served, leaving a copy at their dwelling in the same time period, or mailing a copy by first-class mail to the tenant’s last known address at least five days before the writ is served (NCGS § 42-36.2(d)). 

During this seven-day period, the landlord cannot throw away or sell any items. Only after the seven days have passed and the tenant still hasn’t retrieved the items can the landlord dispose of the property and charge the tenant all costs of summary ejectment, execution, and storage proceedings. This shall constitute a lien against the stored property or a claim against any remaining balance of the warehouse’s lien sale proceeds (NCGS § 42-36.2(b)). 

Evicting a Squatter in North Carolina 

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 North Carolina, squatters must have lived in the property for 20 consecutive years or occupied and had color of title for seven consecutive years to invoke North Carolina squatters rights and claim right of possession (NCGS § 1-38, 1-39). 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 North Carolina 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 North Carolina, you should: 

  1. Call local law enforcement. 
  1. Determine whether the person is a trespasser or a squatter. 
  1. If the person is a trespasser, they can be removed immediately by a police officer. 
  1. If the person is a squatter, you must contact the sheriff’s office. 
  1. Send the squatter an eviction notice as per North Carolina eviction law. 
  1. If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the notice period, file for eviction and follow the typical eviction process. 
  1. Only the sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. You cannot do so, and neither can a police officer. 

North Carolina Eviction Cost Estimates 

This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of an eviction in North Carolina, 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. 

Action Approximate Cost (Magistrate Court) Approximate Cost (District Court) 
Filing fee $96 $150 
Service of court summons $30 $30 
Service of writ of possession $30 $30 
Execution of writ Varies Varies 
Notice of Appeal filing fee $150 $150 
Legal fees $500-$10,000 $500-$10,000 
Average locksmith fees $160 $160 
Storage fees for abandoned property Varies Varies 
Tenant turnover costs Varies Varies 

North Carolina Eviction Time Estimates 

The chart below shows an estimate of the duration of each part of the North Carolina eviction process timeline. 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.  

Action Duration 
Eviction notice period 10 days 
Service of summons by sheriff Within 5 days of issuance, but at least two days prior to the hearing 
Maximum continuance 5 days 
Tenant answer period (District court) 20 days 
Eviction hearing  7-30 days after issuance of summons 
Issuance/service of writ of restitution 10 days 
Time to quit after writ is posted 0-5 days 
Storage period 7 days 
 Total  1-3 months 

Court Documents 

Additional Resources 

Conclusion 

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 North Carolina 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. 

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