The state of Alaska is notoriously cold and dark in the winter. In central Alaska, for example, winter temperatures dip below minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit with some regularity, and the sun does not peek above the horizon for months on end.
Being evicted from a rental property is always difficult, but being evicted in Alaska's long night of winter is particularly traumatic. However, this has little impact on a landlord's right to recover real property units in Alaska. The Alaska Landlord and Tenant Act defines the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants, and there is no general winter exception from eviction laws. Tenants in mobile homes are the only ones who get a break in winter and it is not as broad as some suggest.
Landlord/Tenant Relations in Alaska
Alaska is a state that is friendly to landlords and less supportive of renters. First, the law permits residential landlords to terminate tenancies without cause. That means that a landlord can terminate a tenancy with notice even if the tenant has done nothing wrong.
Beyond that, Alaska offers no rent control. The law provides no limits at all on how much landlords can charge in rent or how much rent can be raised by the landlord. That means that a landlord can accept $1,000 in January, but advise the tenant that as of February 1, the rent will be $2,000, or $3,000, or $4,000. Thirty days' notice is all that is required. The rule about rent-related fees is similar. As long as the fees are noted in the written rental agreement, neither the amount of late fees nor the amount of returned check fees is limited by Alaska law.
The landlord does have the obligation to provide a habitable dwelling that is safe for the tenant to live in. They must give the tenant notice before accessing the unit and they are forbidden from kicking out tenants for retaliatory purposes.
What Is an Eviction?
Despite dramatic scenes that appear on television and in the movies, most states do not allow landlords to use self-help eviction measures like locking tenants out and/or tossing their belongings into the street. To be lawful in Alaska, an eviction must be the end result of a legal action against the tenant. The landlord or property manager must give the tenant notice, then ask for court permission to evict. If that permission is granted, the physical eviction – if it comes to that – is carried out by law enforcement, not the landlord.
The Alaska Eviction Process
In Alaska, like most states, the eviction process has a number of steps that must be followed for an eviction to be legal. The first involves notice to the tenant and, in most cases, an opportunity to make good the past debt or breach and to continue the tenancy.
The next step is the filing of a complaint for repossession of the unit, also known as Forcible Entry and Detainer. The tenant is given an opportunity to respond, then a trial date is set. If the landlord prevails at the trial, they get a judgment of possession informing the tenant of their deadline to move out or be evicted.
If that deadline passes, and the tenant has not moved out, the landlord can ask the court for a writ of assistance. This order is the tenant’s final notice to leave the rental unit before a state trooper returns to the property to forcibly remove them.
Termination of Tenancy in Alaska
It is easy to confuse a termination of tenancy and an eviction, since both result in the tenant moving out at the landlord's request or demand. However, they are different legal actions in Alaska, as elsewhere.
A termination of tenancy occurs when either party to a rental contract opts to terminate it. The process is different for leases than for periodic tenancies. A lease is a rental agreement for a set term, often a year. During that year, a landlord cannot terminate the tenancy without cause. That is, they cannot ask the tenant to leave unless the tenant violates the lease agreement, for example, by not paying rent or breaking rental rules like smoking in a nonsmoking unit.
However, the lease tenancy automatically terminates the day the lease period ends is unless the parties agree to extend it. A landlord in Alaska can let the tenant know that there will be no lease extension by giving them written notice of termination of tenancy as of the day the lease is up.
Terminating a Month-to-Month Rental
When it comes to a month-to-month rental, Alaska allows a landlord to terminate the tenancy without cause. The landlord is only required to give the tenant a 30-day notice of termination of tenancy. (The tenant can do the same.) If the tenant does not leave at the end of the lease, or at the end of the month when a termination of tenancy has been served, the process of forcing the tenant to leave is termed an eviction.
Eviction Starts With a Notice
In Alaska, a residential eviction starts with a notice. The landlord must serve the tenant with a written notice to quit. The amount of time the notice allows depends on the reason the landlord is evicting the tenant. For example, if a tenant in Alaska fails to pay rent, the landlord prepares a 7-Day Notice to Quit. The tenant has seven days to pay back rent and stay in the unit. If they do not do this, they must quit (leave) the unit.
If the Alaska tenant has violated the rental agreement, for example, by keeping a pet in a unit where pets are not allowed, the landlord must give them a 10-Day Notice to Quit. The tenant has 10 days to bring their conduct back within the rules of the agreement, or they must leave.
There are different time periods given for other "for cause" evictions. If the notice is sent for failure to pay utility bills, it is a 5-Day Notice. If for failure to allow the landlord access to the property, it is a 10-Day Notice. If it is for illegal activities, it can be as little as 24-Hour Notice. Each Notice to Quit must be in writing and include the date and time that the problem needs to be corrected. The landlord must hand the notice to the tenant in person, send by certified mail or leave at the premises.
Eviction Court Action
When the Alaska eviction notice period is over, the landlord can file a complaint in court if the tenant has neither remedied the problem nor moved out. The landlord must file in the Justice Court if the amount of damages requested is less than $100,000, in the Superior Court for higher damage amounts. They must also pay the filing fee. Once these matters are completed, the court schedules a hearing and issues a summons, requiring the tenant to file a response or appear in court.
Both the summons and the complaint must be served to the tenant to notify them of the time and place of the court trial. "Service" is a legal term meaning that a third party must give these documents to the tenant. Generally, in Alaska, the third party is a professional process server or a peace officer. This must be done at lease 48 hours before the eviction hearing is set to be held. The documents can be handed to the tenant, left at their place of residence with someone who lives there, or mailed by certified or registered mail with return receipt requested.
If the eviction complaint asks for money damages, the tenant must file an answer within 20 days to demonstrate that they do not agree with the complaint.
Alaska Eviction Trial
Both the landlord and the tenant must appear in court at the eviction trial. They can, but need not be, represented by an attorney. If a party does not appear, the other party is very likely to have a judgment entered in their favor. Each party will have a chance to present their side of the story and offer evidence supporting it. They can bring witnesses, video from security cameras, documents, and any other relevant evidence to convince the court.
Tenants can either disprove the charges against them or show evidence that the eviction is meant to punish them improperly. Retaliatory evictions are illegal in Alaska. That means that if the landlord is trying to kick out the tenant for exercising their legal rights, the court will not rule in favor of the landlord. Generally, retaliatory evictions occur when the tenant has notified a government authority about improper conditions of the property.
For example, if the landlord's property contains housing code violations and they refuse to repair, the tenant has the right to report this to the appropriate authority, and a landlord cannot retaliate against the tenant by commencing eviction proceedings.
If the landlord establishes valid reasons for evicting the tenant, the court issues a judgment of possession. This court order is notice that the landlord has the right to regain possession and that the tenant must move out by a certain date. If they do not do so, the landlord can request a writ of assistance. This is the final notice to the tenant. If they do not move out, law enforcement will come to the premises and forcibly evict them.
Alaska Winter Eviction Rules
Some people are under the impression that in regions with ice-cold winters, like Alaska, landlords are not permitted to evict tenants during the winter. This is in fact the case in some Scandinavian nations, but it is not true in Alaska or any other U.S. state. A landlord can evict a tenant living in an apartment, house or condo at any time, even in the middle of a cold winter. No special rules or eviction moratoriums apply to any season.
Many online articles about Alaska eviction laws suggest that there is an exception to this rule for mobile home tenants, that a landlord cannot evict a tenant from a mobile home between October 15 and May 1. This is, however, a misstatement of the law. The statute, Alaska Statutes Section 34.03.225, discusses a mobile home park operator's right to evict a mobile home or a mobile home park dweller or tenant.
They have the right to evict at any time if the tenant is behind in payment of rent or has violated the law or the terms of their rental contract. They also have the right to change the use of the land comprising the mobile home park, but they must give notice of at least 270 days, and the quit date must fall between May 1 and October 15.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.