South Carolina Eviction Process
November 9, 2023
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Eviction In South Carolina
If you own and rent properties in the state of South Carolina, you are responsible for complying with South Carolina law on eviction. In this article, we break down each step of the legal eviction process in South Carolina.
Eviction Process in South Carolina
- Landlord serves a zero- to 14-day eviction notice.
- Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court.
- Court serves tenant a summons.
- Tenant files an answer.
- Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment.
- Tenant gets 24 hours to move out.
- Sheriff returns to forcibly remove the tenant.
According to South Carolina law, tenants can be evicted for failing to pay rent, violating the rental agreement, violating a building or housing code by lack of reasonable care, or engaging in illegal activity on the premises. Landlords can also pursue eviction if required maintenance required under a building/housing code would effectively deprive the tenant of use of the dwelling unit because of extensive alteration, remodeling, or demolition (SC Stat. § 27-40-910(a-c)).
1. Landlord Serves a Zero- to 14-Day Eviction Notice
The first step in the South Carolina eviction process is sending a formal eviction notice. If any of the above lease violations occur, the landlord must first serve a South Carolina eviction notice and state that the tenant has the appropriate number of days to remedy or cure the violation. South Carolina state laws designate three possible eviction notices a landlord may send:
- Rent Demand Notice: 5 days to pay or quit. If rent is unpaid when due, South Carolina landlords 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 five days after receipt of the notice) (SC Stat. § 27-40-710(B)).
- Lease Violation Notice: 14 days to cure or quit. If a tenant violates a lease term or fails to maintain the unit in a way that materially affects health and safety as per § 27-40-540, 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 fourteen days after receipt of the notice) (SC Stat. § 27-40-710(A)).
- Unconditional Notice to Quit: Immediate. If a tenant participates in illegal activity on the premises, the landlord may issue an unconditional notice to quit and begin the eviction process immediately (SC Stat. § 27-40-710(B)).
For all evictions, the landlord may recover actual damages and obtain injunctive relief, judgments, and possession in magistrate’s or circuit court. However, the landlord is only entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees when the tenant’s noncompliance is willful or not in good faith (provided the landlord is represented by an attorney) (SC Stat. § 27-40-710(C)).
Note on retaliatory evictions: In South Carolina, as in all states, landlords are strictly forbidden from pursuing eviction in retaliation against the tenant for using their rights. If a landlord in South Carolina retaliates in any way, they may not recover possession for 75 days or increase rent more than fair-market value. According to South Carolina eviction laws, landlords who act in retaliation are also liable for damages up to three month’s rent or three times the actual damages sustained by the tenant, plus reasonable attorney’s fees (SC Stat. § 27-40-910(g, h)).
2. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court
The next step in the South 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 can then file an eviction lawsuit, also called an Application for Ejectment (downloadable here) in either the South Carolina Circuit or Magistrate Court (these courts have concurrent jurisdiction over landlord-tenant disputes) (SC Stat. § 27-40-130(a)).
The magistrate complaint form includes the following:
- The county and civil case number
- The names of the landlord(s) and tenant(s)
- Address and description of the rental premises
- An attached copy of the lease
- The grounds or reason for the ejectment
- The date with the landlord’s signature
- The signature of the Magistrate or Notary Public for South Carolina
The landlord will also be required to pay a filing fee. In magistrate court, this fee is $45. Additionally, South Carolina state law imposes a mandatory fee of $25 on all cases filed in magistrate court (SC Stat. § 22-3-340)
3. Court Serves Tenant a Summons
After the landlord files a claim, the court will issue a summons to be served to the tenant. In South Carolina, the summons is called a Rule to Vacate or Show Cause (downloadable here). The Rule includes:
- The county and case number
- The names of the landlord(s) and tenant(s)
- The reason for the eviction
- A statement that the tenant is required to contact the Magistrate within ten days to schedule a hearing and show cause why they should not be evicted
- A warning that failure to respond within the ten-day period may result in a default judgment in the landlord’s favor
The Rule must be served by the sheriff, their deputy, or another person at least 18 years old who is not a party in the case (SC Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4). The cost to have the court/sheriff serve the document is $10. Whenever possible, the Rule and the Action for Ejectment should be served via personal service to the tenant. If personal delivery is not possible after the server has tried two separate times (48 hours apart and at least two different times of the day), the documents may also be:
- Given to a person of suitable age and discretion who lives at the rental unit.
- If no other person can be found and the unit appears abandoned for at least 15 days, posted to a conspicuous part of the premises.
- If personal delivery is unsuccessful twice, by posting it to the unit and mailing a copy.
The tenant must appear and show cause why they shouldn’t be evicted to avoid being removed from the rental unit. If they do not, the landlord will automatically win, and the court will issue a warrant of ejectment (SC Stat. § 27-40-790(c)).
4. Tenant Files an Answer
As mentioned above, tenants in South Carolina are required to submit a response to the summons, called an Answer to the Rule. Tenants must contact the court to submit their answer and set a hearing date within ten days of receiving the summons (SC Stat. § 27-40-910(f)). After the answer has been filed, the court will set a date for the hearing as soon as is feasibly possible.
If the tenant chooses to raise defenses or counterclaims, they must pay the landlord all rent that becomes due. The landlord is required to issue written receipts for each payment. In lieu of this requirement, the tenant may also be allowed to submit to the court a receipt and cancelled check or both to show that payment has already been made to the landlord (SC Stat. § 27-40-790(a-b)).
Either party may demand trial by jury, in which case a jury will be summoned as in any other civil case (SC Stat. § 27-37-80).
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 judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the court will issue a Writ of Ejectment (downloadable here), which authorizes the sheriff, deputy, or constable of the county to remove the tenant from the rental unit (SC Stat. § 27-40-790(c)). The Writ of Ejectment must be issued within five days (SC Stat. § 27-37-100).
The tenant may choose to appeal the case to the circuit court. If they do, the execution of the judgment may be stayed, as long as the tenant signs an undertaking that they will pay to the landlord the amount of rent that becomes due periodically. Then, any magistrate, clerk, or circuit court judge will order a stay of execution, or a delay of the tenant’s removal, until the appeal is decided (SC Stat. § 27-40-800).
6. Tenant Gets 24 Hours to Move Out.
Once the constable or deputy sheriff receives the Writ of Ejectment, they will serve a copy to the tenant and give them 24 hours to voluntarily vacate. This final notice period is the tenant’s last chance to move out of the rental unit. Note that the landlord will need pay another $10 fee to have the sheriff serve the writ.
7. Sheriff Returns to Forcibly Remove the Tenant.
If the tenant does not move out of the unit within 24 hours, the officer will return to forcibly enter and remove the tenant by the least destructive means possible. If the tenant is an ill or elderly person, the officer can use their discretion to grant a delay in the dispossession of the tenant (SC Stat. § 27-37-160).
After a tenant is evicted, any personal property they leave behind must be stored for at least 48 hours. During this 48-hour storage period, the tenant’s belongings can be placed on a public street or highway. After the belongings have sat for 48 hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays), the appropriate municipal or country officials should remove and dispose of it.
However, if the premises is located in a municipality or county that doesn’t collect trash/debris from public highways, the landlord should store the belongings at the rental unit instead and dispose of it themselves after 48 hours. The original eviction notice must clearly inform the tenant of these disposal procedures (SC Stat. § 27-40-710(D)).
Evicting a Squatter in South 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 South Carolina, squatters must have lived in the property and have color of title for ten continuous years to invoke South Carolina squatters rights and claim right of possession (SC Stat. § 15-67-210). 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 South 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 South Carolina, 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 an eviction notice as per South Carolina eviction law.
- If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the notice 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.
South Carolina Eviction Cost Estimates
This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of an eviction in South 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.
|Additional imposed fee on all magistrate case filings||$25|
|Service of court summons by sheriff||$10|
|Service of writ of ejectment||$10|
|Notice of appeal filing fee||$150|
|Average locksmith fees||$160|
|Storage fees for abandoned property||Varies|
|Tenant turnover costs||Varies|
South Carolina 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||0-14 days|
|Tenant response period||Within 10 days of receiving the summons|
|Eviction hearing||ASAP after Answer is filed|
|Issuance of writ of restitution||Within 5 days|
|Time to quit after writ is posted||24 hours|
|Mandatory storage period||48 hours|
- Application for Ejectment (Eviction)
- Rule to Vacate or Show Cause (Eviction)
- Writ of Ejectment (Eviction)
- South Carolina Civil Court Rules – The specific rules of civil procedure and court policies in South Carolina civil court.
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 South 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.