Self-Help Evictions

A new Alabama Supreme Court decision addresses self-help evictions. In the case of Selma Housing Authority v. Williams (click to read entire decision), the Executive Director of the Selma Housing Authority filed an eviction lawsuit against Williams. The Director signed the lawsuit herself, but she was not a licensed attorney. Williams contested the eviction and claimed the court never gained jurisdiction over him because the Director was not a lawyer and, as a result, the whole lawsuit was illegal and null.

The Director argued various public policy reasons why she should be allowed to file her own eviction suits in order to save money for the Housing Authority. She also argued that (1) the Alabama Residential Landlord Act allows a “landlord” to bring an eviction suit (2) in other sections, the Act defines “landlord” as including “manager” and (3) a Florida Bar Association opinion allows managers to file eviction suits for the same reason as (1) and (2). She also stated that she had done so on 41 prior occasions.

The Alabama Supreme Court side-stepped the “manager able to file eviction lawsuits” issue by pointing out that the Director of the Selma Housing Authority was not the property manager.  The Court held that the Executive Director was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law when she filed the eviction suit, and basically threw the case out of court.

The eviction lawsuit was filed on July 14, 2010. The Alabama Supreme Court decision was September 23, 2011.  Fourteen months after it started the eviction, the Selma Housing Authority gets to start all over again.  Do you think they will collect any back rent from Williams?  Probably not.  While I’m all in favor of doing without the lawyers in some situations, evictions are not on my list.  Although you can file the eviction lawsuit yourself if you personally own the property (not your wholly  or partially owned corporation or LLC), it is usually not a good idea.