Eviction is the removal of a tenant from rental property by the landlord and most evictions happen because renters cannot or do not pay their rent. Landlords can evict renters for a number of other reasons too, including taking on boarders, damaging property, causing a disturbance, or breaking the law.

How does an eviction process work?

To evict you, your landlord MUST take you to court. Your landlord cannot use self-help measures such as changing the locks or terminating the utilities. Normally, the eviction process takes about 3 weeks and includes the following steps: 

    • You can only be evicted by the Sheriff’s Office, and only after the Court has entered a judgment against you and the Clerk issues a Writ of Possession.
    • In most cases, your landlord must give you advance notice to terminate your lease or make a demand for your past-due rent before starting the eviction process.
    • To begin an eviction proceeding, your landlord must file a Magistrate’s Summons and a Complaint in Summary Ejectment with the Clerk of Court. 
    • Your landlord must then serve you with the Summons and Complaint by paying the Sheriff’s Office or a process server to deliver it to you personally; mail it by registered or certified mail; or mail it by a certified delivery service such as FedEx or UPS. Your landlord cannot personally deliver the Summons and Complaint to you. 
    • The Magistrate’s Summons will notify you of your court date. You will have an opportunity to appear and contest the eviction. There are several ways to defend against an eviction in Court, including if your landlord fails to give you proper notice, fails to properly serve you, begins the eviction process too soon, has accepted some rent from you, or failed to keep the property fit and habitable by making necessary repairs.
What rights do tenants have?

Under North Carolina law, tenants have several protections, including:

  • The landlord/hotel cannot remove a tenant without filing an eviction court case and obtaining an eviction judgment from a judge or magistrate. Only after an eviction judgment has been ordered can the sheriff remove the tenant and their belongings. 
  • The landlord/hotel does not have the right to keep a tenant’s belongings before an eviction, even if a tenant owes rent. 
  • The landlord/hotel is NOT allowed to change locks, turn off the electricity or water, or do other things to force a tenant to move without going through the court process first. If the owner does not follow the law, then a tenant can sue for illegal eviction and seek a court order to make the owner stop and/or let them back into the room.
Do people staying in hotel rooms count as tenants?

Determining whether someone staying at a hotel is a tenant depends on if the hotel room is that person’s “primary residence”–in other words, their home. If the room is the person’s only residence, then that person is a tenant. A court will consider all the circumstances to determine if a hotel room is a person’s primary residence.

A lease can be either oral or written and it does not have to use any magic words like “lease,” “landlord,” “tenant,” or “rent.” It does not matter whether a place is called a “hotel,” “motel,” “boarding house,” or “rooming house.” It does not matter if a person is called a “guest” instead of a “tenant.” What matters is if the hotel room is the person’s primary residence.

I can’t pay my rent because of COVID. Are there any protections that can help me keep my apartment?

The CDC has issued a moratorium on evictions nationwide for those who meet certain qualifications. It went into effect on September 4, 2020 and will last until December 31 2020. To learn more and apply for help click here.

North Carolina has launched the HOPE (Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions) Program, which helps renters who have been financially impacted by COVID-19. Eligible applicants could receive assistance with up to 6 months of rent and utility payments. Click here to apply.

I think my rights as a tenant are being violated. Where can I go for help?

You can contact Legal Aid of North Carolina for legal advice and representation. To apply for help, call 1-866-219-5262. Residents of Mecklenburg County can call 704-376-1600. You can also apply online. Visit www.legalaidnc.org.

Need more information? 

If you didn’t find what you need on this page or need more information on local resources, dial 2-1-1 or 888-892-1162. Our call specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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