An eviction is a legal process that allows a landlord to request a court’s permission to have law enforcement remove a tenant from a residence. The most common type of eviction in Arkansas is called “unlawful detainer.” Unlawful detainer is a civil lawsuit in which the landlord asks the court to evict a tenant.
A tenant may be evicted for violating any obligation in his or her lease. Common violations include failure to pay rent when due, causing damage to the dwelling, unauthorized persons living at the dwelling, and criminal activity. A tenant may also be evicted if they continue to live in the dwelling after the lease period has ended.
Lease termination is the first step in the eviction process. It means that the lease contract between the landlord and tenant has ended. Leases terminate naturally at the end of the lease period (one year in many cases). A landlord may terminate a tenant’s lease early for a violation of the lease.
At the end of the lease period, both the landlord and the tenant have the choice of whether to renew the lease. A landlord may choose not to renew the lease for any reason except for discriminatory reasons protected under the Fair Housing Act. Discriminatory reasons include race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
The “unlawful detainer” process begins when the landlord gives the tenant a written eviction notice stating that the lease has been terminated. For non-payment of rent, this notice must give the tenant at least three days to vacate. For all other lease violations, the notice period should be at least 14 days. For termination of a month-to-month lease (absent some other lease violation), the notice period must be at least one month.
If the tenant stays in the dwelling beyond the time given in the notice, then the landlord is allowed to file a lawsuit for unlawful detainer. The tenant must receive proper service of a summons and complaint through either a process server or certified mail.
2. Being Served
Contact an attorney immediately if you are served.. You only have 5 days from the date that you received the lawsuit to file a proper response with the circuit court clerk. If you do not file a response, the clerk will issue the order that allows law enforcement to evict you. If you do file a response, the matter will be set for a hearing before a judge. The number for Arkansas legal services, which is through either the Center for Arkansas Legal Services or Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc., is 1-800-9-LAW-AID 1-800-952-9243.
3. A Court Order
A landlord cannot throw you out without a court order. A landlord may not use any “self-help” method of eviction. Changing the locks, removing the doors or windows, terminating utility services, and making threats are all illegal methods of eviction. If your landlord does or threatens any of these illegal actions, contact an attorney and your local police department immediately.
Your best bet is to take them with you. If law enforcement has to evict you, any belongings that you cannot take with you will be removed and stored at your expense. If you move prior to law enforcement’s involvement and leave your belongings in the dwelling, your landlord will be able to consider the property abandoned and throw away or sell your items.