The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

January 18, 2007

Evictions returning to a civil procedure

A measure designed to speed the eviction process through the courts 30 years ago, the Sanderson Act, did not protect the rights of tenants and ran counter to the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure and the English rule of law on which the rules are based.

The Sanderson Act was replaced by the Alabama Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, which the Legislature passed in April. State Rep. Jeffrey McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, hoped to balance the rights of both landlords and tenants when he sponsored the legislation. Act 2006-316 applies to only those agreements entered into after Jan. 1.

On Thursday, Limestone County Circuit Court Clerk Charles Page coordinated a seminar on the new law for landlords and tenants in the large courtroom.

“Small claims and evictions are the most difficult things we deal with in our office,” said Page to a near-capacity crowd in the courtroom.

The presenter was Kenneth Lay, housing advocacy director of Legal Services of Alabama, which provides civil-court services for low-income state residents. With Lay were former Limestone district attorney Jimmy Fry, now of Mobile, regional director of the Lower Alabama Region for the agency, and Charlotte Cloud of Huntsville, northern Alabama regional director.

While this story is not meant to include all of the points of law discussed at Thursday’s seminar, it focuses on what have been key points of contention in the eviction process.

Under the Sanderson Act, landlords began an eviction process by presenting what is essentially the end result of other legal actions—an order. Under all other civil actions, judges issue the final orders, but under the Sanderson Act, a landlord could present a tenant with an eviction order and the tenant had to file a counter affidavit. It made for a long, drawn-out procedure.

As of Jan. 1, landlords wishing to evict a tenant must have them personally served by the Sheriff’s Department with an “unlawful detainer” after which the tenant has seven business days to answer the complaint.

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