Searching “Oklahoma eviction laws” online will produce a wealth of results, but next to none will be relevant to commercial, as opposed to residential, evictions. We discussed residential eviction at length in this article, but here we’d like to shed what light we can on its nonresidential counterpart. Oklahoma Statutes §41 discusses leasing and landlord and tenant relationships, and the Oklahoma Non-Residential/Residential Landlord and Tenant Act mainly restates the important parts of §41. In addition to these, Oklahoma Statutes §12 explains the laws and processes surrounding taking legal action against a landlord or tenant and the legal process of regaining control of a rented property. These documents will be referenced throughout this article so that you can refer to the original laws as they regard your specific legal situation.
|Commercial vs. Residential Property|
|When is Commercial Property Eviction a Possibility?|
|How Does Commercial Property Eviction Work?|
|What About Possessions Abandoned at a Commercial Property?|
Commercial vs. Residential Property
According to Oklahoma Statutes §41-51, “‘Nonresidential rental property” means any land or building which is rented or leased to a tenant for other than residential purposes” and isn’t regulated by laws addressing self-service storage facilities. Everything from office space to storefronts to restaurant structures would be included here, though certain additional regulations also apply to rented farmland. Laws regarding rented farmland and its produce are detailed in Oklahoma Statutes §41-23, 24, 26, 27, and 28.
You may notice in scanning the Oklahoma Residential/Nonresidential Landlord and Tenant Act that the Nonresidential portion takes up less than two pages, while the Residential portion weighs in at around twelve pages. In general, nonresidential leasing is far less regulated than residential leasing. There are a few well established rules surrounding the nonresidential landlord/tenant relationship, but beyond these, the important thing to note is that the lease agreement holds a great deal of influence in a commercial leasing relationship. Given that, let’s explore when eviction for commercial properties may become a possibility.
When is commercial property eviction a possibility?
Given the poverty of legal regulation surrounding commercial leasing, the lease agreement almost always takes primacy in potential eviction situations. Essentially all the possible evictions either arise from or are arbitrated by the lease agreement. The agreement is a contract between the landlord and tenant that establishes the rules of use, the amount and timing of payment, and the length of occupancy for a specified property. The more specific and intentional the lease agreement, the less liability to both involved parties, and the clearer the boundaries surrounding eviction.
Most basically, all eviction cases will be connected to a violation of the lease agreement. This will usually happen in one of a few ways:
- Failure to Pay Rent
Perhaps the most common reason for a nonresidential eviction is failure to pay rent. According to §41-6 and 7, if a tenant fails to pay for 3 months or longer, the landlord should give written notice and wait 10 days, then he may bring an action against the tenant. If, instead, a tenant fails to pay for less than 3 months, the landlord should give written notice and wait just 5 days, then proceed.
However, as demonstrated in Parker Livestock v. Oklahoma City National Stock Yards in 2015, it is possible for a lease agreement to supersede the Oklahoma statutes’ stipulations for notice and demand. In this case, the contract stated that nonpayment of rent could result in immediate termination without notice of eviction or demand of payment. The court upheld that the plaintiff had waived its right to these protections. The important things to note, then, are that 1) the Oklahoma Statutes’ notice and waiting period regulations create norms for rent payment, but 2) these can be waived by a lease agreement, so 3) you should be sure in forming a lease agreement that the regulations around rent payment are clear, fair, and agreeable to both parties. Landlords and tenants may be held responsible for agreement’s specific stipulations rather than the statutes’ regulations.
- Failure to Evacuate
Not every case of a tenant retaining possession of a property past the set terms of a lease will be considered a failure to evacuate. According to Oklahoma statutes §41-2, 35, and 36, a lease agreement for a year or less renews automatically for the same amount of time if neither party terminates it and the landlord continues to accept rent payment from the tenant. Similarly, a lease for greater than a year becomes a tenancy at will if neither party terminates the tenancy and the landlord continues to accept payment.
For a tenancy to be formally terminated, it must either have a set date of termination in the lease agreement or one party must give proper notice at specified advance times. For a tenancy at will or a tenancy with up to a three month lease period, the party who wishes to terminate should provide a 30 day notice (§41-4). Yearly tenancies may be terminated by giving three months’ notice (§41-5). Finally, if a contract specifies a predetermined end date for the lease, or if no contract in fact exists between parties, no notice for termination is required by law (§41-8). Nonetheless, as with the above regulations regarding failure to pay rent, a lease agreement may add to or supersede the Oklahoma statutes’ requirements. For example, an agreement could shorten or lengthen the amount of time required for notice of termination, so both parties should always be clear on the specific requirements of their own lease agreement.
In any case where the termination provisions of the lease agreement have been violated by a holdover tenant, or in any case where the lease agreement does not specify beyond what the Oklahoma statutes state and the statutes have been violated by a holdover tenant, the landlord may proceed with an eviction action.
- Other Violation of a Lease Agreement
This final potential condition for eviction is somewhat of a catchall. As seen above, the lease agreement generally rules the day in determining what can and cannot result in eviction. Beyond rent payment and failure to evacuate after proper notice, any other violation of the lease agreement may also result in its termination. The possibilities for this depend largely on the sort of property being rented and the purpose it will serve. For example, the landlord holds the right to allow or disallow certain uses of the property or structural and cosmetic changes to the property by the tenant. If the lease states these requirements unambiguously, the tenant’s violation of them can result in termination and eviction.
How does commercial property eviction work?
- Eviction Notice
The commercial eviction process begins when the landlord gives the tenant proper notice. The details of notice, when it can be given, and how long a landlord must wait after giving notice will depend on the circumstances of the eviction and the specific language of the lease agreement. The above sections on when eviction may occur provide some guidance on this and come from OK statutes §41-4 to §41-8. Beyond that, be sure to refer to your specific lease agreement to see the sort of notice and the timeline it requires.
The OK statutes and most lease agreements will require a landlord to give written notice and observe a waiting period of 5-10 days. If required, written notice of termination should be delivered to the tenant or, if the tenant is unavailable, to a person 12 or older living with him. If no applicable person can be found, notice can be posted conspicuously on the building or property and mailed by registered mail to the tenant’s last known address. The landlord must then observe the applicable waiting period, likely for 10 days. During this time, the tenant may either resolve whatever issue or pay overdue rent, in which case further action may not be necessary.
- Filing an Action
If not, however, or if a landlord elects to proceed with eviction, the landlord will next file a forcible entry and detainer action against the tenant in the relevant district court. At this step, be prepared to pay a filing fee. The court will issue a summons to the plaintiff and set a trial date for 5-10 days later. The summons must be served at least three days before trial. If the defendant cannot be located for service, a sheriff or process server may post notice conspicuously on the property, and the plaintiff may mail notice by certified mail to the defendant at least five days before trial. (§12-1148.4-5)
- Trial and Judgment
If the plaintiff does not appear at trial, the court will not render judgment regarding monetary payment or liability for the plaintiff, but may return possession of the property to the landlord (§12-1148.5A). On the other hand, the defendant may appear at trial and make a defense against the accusations offered by the landlord. In any case, if the court upholds the landlord’s claims, the judge will issue a writ of execution. The writ may be issued the same day or within a few days of the trial. Once it has been issued, it should be delivered immediately to the tenant if possible, or posted conspicuously on the disputed premises. The writ stipulates that its enforcement will take place within 48 hours, during which time the tenant must vacate the premises.
If the tenant fails to evacuate the premises in the provided time, the landlord may contact law enforcement to remove the tenant. It’s important to note that the legal process for removal must be followed exactly. Under no circumstances in Oklahoma may a landlord forcibly evict a tenant by self-help means, such as changing locks. Even if they are in the right according to the court or the contract, the landlord must contact law enforcement to carry out a forcible eviction. (§12-1148.10A; Parker Livestock v. Oklahoma City National Stock Yards)
What about possessions abandoned at a commercial property?
- Disposable Possessions
The bulk of the nonresidential section of the Oklahoma Landlord and Tenant Act is dedicated to disposal of abandoned property and the responsibilities of involved parties—see §52. If a tenant abandons “goods, furnishings, fixtures, or any other personal property” at a nonresidential property and the landlord sees it has no ascertainable value, the landlord must first give the former tenant proper notice. In this case, proper notice means one of two things: the tenant has been either personally served, and then the landlord waits 10 days, or notice has been mailed by certified mail to the tenant, then the landlord waits 15 days. After the appropriate time, the landlord may take possession of the personal property and dispose of it as he chooses. (§52 A)
- Valuable Possessions
If, on the other hand, the property does have ascertainable value, the landlord should give notice as above. The notice should stipulate that if the property is not removed within 15 days of receipt of the notice, the landlord intends to sell the property at a public sale. Furthermore, the landlord may demand that any money owed to him by the tenant must be paid prior to return of the property. In the meantime, the landlord is responsible to store the property in a reasonably safe manner. This could mean the property remains in the abandoned structure or the landlord must have it removed to a separate storage facility. Whatever the landlord chooses to do, the tenant will be responsible to pay the cost of removal and/or storage if he returns to claim the property. (§52 B-D)
- Sale and Proceeds
If the landlord intends to sell the property, notice should be mailed by certified or registered mail to the tenant’s last known address at least 10 days prior to the sale. In addition, notice should also be given to anyone else claiming interest in the property, such as “holders of security interests or other liens or encumbrances as shown by the records in the office of the county clerk of the county where the lien would be foreclosed,” (§52 F). The proceeds from the sale may be used to cover the landlord’s expenses for storing the property, organizing the sale and giving proper notice, satisfying a security interest, and paying rent or other money owed to the landlord by the tenant. After that, if any further proceeds remain, they must be paid to the court to hold for six months. If the tenant does not claim them during that time, the money reverts to the county. (§52 E-I)