A Civil Eviction Bill!

Please check out SB600, sponsored by Senator Will Bond and cosponsored by Representatives Capp and Sabin. The bill creates a streamlined civil eviction procedure, for possession only (landlords are free to sue in small claims court or circuit court for rent; most don’t). Landlords may only bring the action for nonpayment of rent–the grounds for virtually all evictions. Why is this bill so great?

First–It gives tenants the right to cure. If a tenant is late with rent the tenant has three days to pay. Neither the unlawful detainer statute nor the criminal failure to vacate statute give tenants a right to cure.

Second–These complaints can be filed either in circuit court or (if permission has been given by the Supreme Court) in district court. And the form of the complaint is so simple that no attorney will be needed (unless the landlord is an entity like an LLC).

Third–The bill requires the court to schedule the hearing within 21 days of the filing of the complaint. This is similar to the short time period of the current criminal failure to vacate statute and may be even faster in some cases.

Fourth–The tenant gets a real hearing! In an unlawful detainer action, if the tenant can’t understand the archaically-worded form and doesn’t respond, or doesn’t deposit the amount of rent the landlord claims is due into court, the tenant will be evicted. In a criminal failure to vacate hearing the tenant gets a hearing but usually has no right to tell her story, because all the judge asks is whether she has paid the rent and if not whether she is still on the premises. Unlike in unlawful detainer, the tenant can appear in court without having to file anything first.

One objection to unlawful detainer is that tenants could be billed for attorney’s fees. This will only be the case in this procedure if the tenant can’t prove they paid rent or doesn’t assert a defense–in other words, if the tenant is acting in bad faith.

This is a civil procedure, not a criminal one. If the tenant doesn’t appear, a default judgment will simply be issued, unlike in criminal failure to vacate where the judge will swear out a bench warrant, which will result in arrest. Any costs will be civil costs–they will not be criminal fines which carry severe consequences if they are not paid.

The new bill is fairer to both tenants and landlords. Once it has been assigned to a committee, we will post again.