Legal Eviction of Roommates in North Carolina

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Having a roommate doesn't always work out as planned. Some roommates are great, others can be a pain, and a small subset are crooks or worse. But getting rid of a roommate can be more difficult than one might think. And, if a legal procedure is required to get rid of them, it may be necessary to get the landlord involved.

Eviction rules vary from state to state. Landlord/tenant laws in North Carolina require that an eviction lawsuit be brought by the person who signed the lease with the roommate to be ejected. Good cause is required for a landlord to evict, and failing to put dishes in the sink might not qualify.

Anyone hoping to get rid of a roommate in North Carolina would do well to read up on the eviction rules and procedures first. Self-help is not allowed.

What Is Eviction?

So, exactly what is eviction? It's not like on TV, where a burly landlord tosses the tenant's belongings into the street. That kind of self-help is illegal in all states, including North Carolina. Rather, getting rid of a tenant requires jumping through legal hoops.

Eviction is the term generally used to refer to the legal process of getting rid of a tenant. Under North Carolina eviction laws, eviction is called "summary ejectment." It is a court-supervised process with very precise rules, forms and deadlines.

The state's landlord/tenant laws set out the procedures for commencing an eviction in the state and spells out the steps to follow. Evictions take time and energy and are unpleasant and costly for both the landlord and the renter.

Illegal Actions to Get Rid of Tenant

It happens sometimes that roommates don't mesh well. They just don't operate the same way and can't seem to live together peacefully. It also happens that one roommate stops paying their rent or starts breaking the promises they made in their rental contract.

But regardless of the tenant's actions, an eviction cannot happen without following proper court procedures. It is utterly illegal for a landlord or another tenant to:

  • Use strong-arm tactics to persuade the person to pack up and move out.
  • Break into the room where the roommate is living without permission, absent an emergency.
  • Dump the roommate's clothes or belongings.
  • Change the locks so that the old keys don't work.
  • Turn off utilities, like water, electric or gas service.
  • Create a disturbance to get the person to leave.

Who Is the Landlord?

That may sound like an odd question, but it's an important one in North Carolina. Under North Carolina law, only a landlord or their agent can evict a tenant. This makes sense when the owner of the building signs the rental contract with someone.

The two individuals are in contract and either one can bring suit against the other for failing to follow their contract obligations. It wouldn't make sense for a third party to be able to sue either one for reasons concerning their contractual relationship.

When a Tenant Sublets Rooms

Sometimes a building owner rents a multi-bedroom unit to a tenant who is responsible for the full rent but gets the owner's permission to sublet those rooms to other tenants. In this circumstance, the first tenant is the master tenant; they select the roommates and enter into rental contracts with them. The building owner is not in a contractual relationship with the new tenants.

In the first example, where the owner and the tenant are in contract, the owner is the landlord and the only one who can evict the tenant. In the second example, the master tenant acts as the landlord for their roommates. That master tenant can bring an eviction action against a roommate for appropriate cause.

On the other hand, if the landlord accepts rent payments directly from the subtenant, the landlord may be viewed as if they were on the lease with the roommate.

Good Cause for Eviction in North Carolina

Anyone who is convinced that a roommate is behaving badly may hope that removing the unwanted roommate is easier than a regular eviction. However, in some cases, the opposite is true: If both roommates are on the rental agreement with the landlord, they have the same rights as tenants.

Neither one of them can take steps to evict the other, and the one who is angry must convince the landlord to take action. This means they have to convince the landlord that eviction is necessary.

But actions that might annoy a roommate are not necessarily enough to cause the landlord to act. For example, the fact that the roommate is messy is not likely to convince the landlord to bring an eviction suit. In fact, in North Carolina, a landlord can evict for only one of these four reasons:

  • Failure to pay timely rent.
  • Breaking lease terms.
  • Illegal activity.
  • Holding over at the end of the lease term.

If there is good cause, and the landlord agrees to evict, they must then follow normal North Carolina eviction procedures. And the procedures differ depending on the cause. For example, evicting a North Carolina tenant for failure to pay rent involves different steps than evicting a tenant for an illegal activity.

Periodic Tenancy or Written Lease Agreement

The two basic types of rental agreements in North Carolina are rental agreements that establish a periodic tenancy and lease contracts for a set period of time.

The first type of rental agreement establishes a periodic tenancy, usually a month-to-month tenancy, although it can also be week-to-week or any other period. The tenant pays rent at the beginning of the period to cover that period. They must pay at the beginning of the next period for the right to continue to occupy the premises.

A lease contract is a rental agreement for a specified period of time, often a year or two years. The tenant agrees to stay for that period, and the landlord agrees to rent for that period in exchange for a set monthly payment.

Lease Terms in North Carolina

North Carolina is a landlord-friendly state. It has no rent control law limiting the amount that a landlord can raise the rent. State laws also permit a landlord to terminate a rental agreement without cause, that is, without having a reason for doing so. They can terminate for any reason or no reason.

Lease terms usually provide that the monthly payment will remain the same for the term of the lease. However, once the lease is up, the landlord can increase the rent or refuse to renew the lease for any or no reason other than legally prohibited discrimination.

For month-to-month tenancies, a landlord can increase the rent at any point with 30 days' notice to the tenant, and can also terminate the tenancy with 30 days' written notice.

Proceeding With an Eviction in North Carolina

When a landlord decides to evict a tenant in North Carolina, the procedure depends on the reason for the eviction. In some cases, notice is required:

Nonpayment of Rent: According to North Carolina law, rent is considered late the day after it is due. The law does not provide for any grace periods, but these are valid if spelled out in the written agreement.

Tenant Must Pay Overdue Rent or Leave

Once rent becomes overdue, the landlord must give tenants an oral or written 10-day notice that rent is overdue and that they plan to file an eviction action. The landlord must make the demand then wait out the 10-day period before filing a complaint.

If the tenant pays the past due rent plus any late fees, the action goes away. If the tenant fails to pay rent and move out, the eviction threat also goes away. But if the tenant does not pay or leave by the end of the 10-day grace period, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

Holding Over Tenancies

When a tenant “holds over,” or stays in the rental unit after the rental term has expired or the lease has been terminated, the landlord must also give the tenants notice before evicting them. This usually applies to tenants at the end of their lease when the landlord doesn’t want to renew.

Amount of Proper Notice Required

The amount of time required in the eviction notice depends on the type of tenancy.

  • Week-to-Week:​ 2-Day Notice to Quit.
  • Month-to-Month:​ 7-Day Notice to Quit.
  • Year Lease:​ 30-Day Notice to Quit.
  • Special Rules for Trailers:​ 60-Day Notice to Quit.

The notice essentially must tell the tenant to leave the premises in the time period specified. If the tenant remains on the property after the period expires, the landlord can start the eviction process.

Breaking Lease Terms/Illegal Acts: North Carolina landlords do not need to give tenants prior notice if they are being evicted for breaking lease terms or illegal activity.

Filing a Complaint for Eviction in North Carolina

Once the notice period has passed, if one was required, the landlord can file a complaint. In North Carolina, all eviction complaints are filed in Small Claims Court. They must pay a filing fee of $96 when they file. The court clerk prepares a summons, the court document that tells the tenant that they must respond to the complaint and gives them notice of the time frame.

Serving the Court Documents on the Tenant

The summons and complaint must be served on the tenant. Generally, this is done by the sheriff of the county, but another process server can be used. The sheriff's office or other process server undertakes several steps to serve the tenant with the eviction papers. They can:

  • Mail the summons and complaint to the tenant by the end of the next business day after it is filed.
  • Phone the tenant requesting that the tenant visit the sheriff to accept the summons and complaint or schedule an appointment to receive the delivery of the documents.
  • Post a copy of the documents on the premises, personally deliver the complaint to the individual, or leave a copy of the summons and complaint with someone of “suitable” age by visiting the residence of the tenant.

Service must be completed within five days of the day that the summons was issued and at least two days before the tenant is required to answer the complaint. Both parties appear in court on the eviction hearing date and present their positions to the court.

Timing for Eviction in North Carolina

There is no precise time frame for an eviction case in North Carolina. The time it takes to evict a tenant from a rental property depends on several factors, including whether there is a notice and if so, the time set out in the notice, and how the tenant responds to the notice.

If the roommate/tenant does nothing, the landlord gets a default judgment of eviction, giving the tenant 10 days to move out of the unit. If that happens, the eviction is complete. But if the tenant disputes the eviction, the time can be much longer if the tenant contests the matter.

For example, if the roommate claims that they are the victim of illegal discrimination or retaliation, the court may order additional time for the parties to exchange information, find witnesses and discover evidence. The request for a jury trial can also extend the court hearing, as can an appeal filed by the tenant.