Pro Se Uncontested Evictions

Can a property manager, without hiring an attorney, file a pro se eviction lawsuit against a tenant?  Maybe.

In the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals case of Ex parte Williams, 89 So.3d 135 (2011), the Executive Director of the Selma Housing Authority prepared and signed off on an eviction complaint. She used forms available on the website of the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts.

Her argument was interesting.  She said the Alabama Residential Landlord Tenant Act authorizes the “landlord’s action for eviction…” in 35-9A-461(a). To find out the meaning of “landlord” we can then look to 35-9A-151(7) which defines landlord as owner, lessor, sublessor or manager of the premises.  As a result, managers can file eviction lawsuits.

Although a good argument, she lost on a technicality.  She was the Executive Director, not the manager.

Nobody wants to be the test case for a manger, though.

The better course is to get together as an industry and petition the Alabama Supreme Court for an advisory opinion regarding whether a manager, using court approved forms, can file an uncontested eviction lawsuit and obtain a default judgment. That is what happened in Florida. It resulted in a decision reported at 605 So.3d 868 (1992) approving uncontested eviction lawsuits by property managers without the requirement for an attorney.  You, working together as an industry, might be able to do the same thing in Alabama.

Of course, if a tenant answers and disputes the eviction, you will have to get an attorney involved, even in Florida.  If you’ve ever had a construction person, or a repair person, quit or get fired in the middle of a job, you know how hard it is to hire a replacement mid-stream. It works the same with attorneys.  My point is–even if you are eventually allowed to file those uncontested eviction lawsuits, you need to think about what happens if the tenant answers. Will you already have a lawyer lined up to take over, and how much will it cost?

You also have to be mindful that if your uncontested eviction judgment is void for some reason–such as you counted time incorrectly before filing your lawsuit, or service was defective–there will not be anybody’s malpractice insurance to help out if the tenant later sues for an unlawful eviction.  “Going it alone” is sometimes a scary proposition.