So you live in Oklahoma and you’ve got questions about eviction. Perhaps you have a shifty landlord and you want to make sure you know your rights, or perhaps you ARE the landlord and you’re suffering from miscreant tenants. This is the place for you.
“No,” you say. “I’m just bored and weirdly curious about Oklahoma’s residential eviction laws. I live in Nebraska. Someone complained about a tenant’s dog in a comment on my cousin’s Facebook page. I googled it. Here I am.” You’re welcome, too.
The answers to all your questions come from the Oklahoma Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. This Act explains Oklahoma’s actual laws regarding landlord and tenant relationships, if by “explains” we mean contains the information within a Russian nesting doll of pages and pages of legal verbiage. It isn’t unhelpful, it’s just helpful in the least helpful way. Fortunately, this article opens all the eviction-related layers of the doll and explains them in detail. Each section also references the relevant portion(s) of the Oklahoma Residential Landlord and Tenant Act so that you can dive deeper if you’d like.
When is residential eviction allowed by Oklahoma law?
Eviction Without Cause
As many reasons as there may be for a landlord to seek eviction, in some cases the tenancy may be ended without cause or grievance on either side. A tenancy may end at the request of either party at the end of a lease agreement term. The specific process changes based on the type of agreement: an extended lease may end automatically on the date determined in the agreement, at which time the tenant must vacate the dwelling or begin a new lease agreement. An extended lease agreement may alternatively specify that tenants should give written notice if they intend to vacate after the agreement. Consult your specific lease agreement to confirm if this is required for you.
In a month-to-month tenancy, the landlord or tenant may end the agreement by giving written notice at least thirty days before the end of the tenancy. Similarly, for a less than monthly tenancy, eviction or termination of an agreement requires written notice of at least seven days. (§111)
|A Written Notice on Written Notice|
|This part is unusual and important to get right: written notice must be served to the tenant him or herself, or if the tenant is not available, to a person at least twelve years old living at the residence. If no person can be located, notice should be posted obviously on the dwelling, and a copy of the notice should also be mailed to the tenant by certified mail.|
Eviction With Cause
Now to consider the more colorful eviction cases. A landlord may evict a resident in Oklahoma for any of these common causes: failure to evacuate a dwelling at the end of a term, failure to pay rent, noncompliance with a rental agreement, and drug-related or other disruptive criminal activity. Also, though it can’t quite be considered eviction, a landlord may end a lease agreement early in case of a tenant’s wrongful abandonment.
- Failure to Evacuate (§111)
As described above, a landlord may end a tenancy at the end of a lease agreement or by giving proper written notice in advance for an at-will tenant. If, at the end of the allowed time, the tenant just doesn’t leave, a landlord may bring an action for possession of the property and damages. Furthermore, for as long as the tenant remains after he or she is obligated to surrender the dwelling, the landlord is entitled to collect up to twice the average rent amount.
- Failure to Pay Rent (§131 (B))
Residential eviction in the case of failure to pay rent is fairly straightforward: if a tenant fails to pay, the landlord should give written notice. If the tenant still does not pay within five days of receiving written notice, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement and bring an action for eviction. In this case, Oklahoma law considers the written notice for payment of rent as equivalent to a notice to quit the dwelling, and the landlord does not need to provide a separate written notice to evacuate.
- Noncompliance with Rental Agreement (§117 (B))
Noncompliance with a rental agreement poses perhaps the most complex case of residential eviction. Oklahoma law allows a rental agreement to place “reasonable limits” on how a tenant uses and maintains the rented dwelling. For this reason, it’s important for landlords to provide clear and attainable expectations and for tenants to ensure they are thoroughly aware of the expectations laid out in the rental agreement. The Oklahoma Landlord and Tenant Act provides some specific instructions for what is not allowable within a rental agreement in §113. In any case, given that a tenant has genuinely violated one of the legally placed stipulations in the rental agreement, the situation could go a couple of directions, depending on the seriousness of the violation.
A. If the violation is relatively minor and could be remedied by cleaning or repair, the landlord can submit a written demand that the tenant remedy the violation within ten days, or else evacuate the premises within fifteen days. If the tenant fails to comply in ten days, the landlord can either (i) have the repairs done at the reasonable expense of the tenant or (ii) end the rental agreement and evict the tenant. Upon a second violation of the kind, a landlord may give written notice and immediately end a rental agreement. If the tenant fails to vacate after proper written notice, the tenant may be liable to a fine up to $500, up to thirty days in jail, or both a fine and imprisonment. (§117; §132 (B))
B. On the other hand, if a tenant violates the rental agreement such that the violation risks “imminent and irremediable harm” to a person or the property, the landlord may immediately terminate the agreement. In this case, the landlord should immediately file a forcible entry and detainer action. (§132 (C))
- Drug Related or Criminal Activity (§132 (D))
A tenant engaging in drug related or disruptive criminal activity also warrants immediate termination of a rental agreement. In this case, whatever criminal behavior violates the “health, safety or right of peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other tenants” is considered grounds for termination. Furthermore, the tenant is responsible for anyone on the premises with the tenant’s consent, such as family members or guests, and such violations by these persons are also grounds for eviction.
- Wrongful Abandonment (§129)
Lastly, a landlord may end a rental agreement early in cases of wrongful abandonment. Though the tenant may not need to be evicted, legal questions surrounding disposal of their property and use of the unit remain. In fact, depending on the agreements made beforehand, a dwelling unit must primarily be used for living in, and anything less may be grounds for termination. In case of abandonment, similar protocol for disposal of property to cases of eviction stands. If the tenant’s possessions have been removed by the landlord or tenant, the landlord should make reasonable efforts to re-rent the property. If successful, the lease agreement for the previous tenant ends when the new agreement begins, and the previous tenant is only liable for paying rent up to that date. If unsuccessful, the tenant remains responsible for rent payment through the end of the original lease agreement.
A Tale of Two Boxes: Landlord and Tenant Duties
As we finish examining what warrants eviction according to Oklahoma law, it’s worth pointing out some common pitfalls in the landlord/tenant relationship. The legal etiquette can be wordy and scattered, so we’ve created these nifty boxes to appraise you of some important rights and responsibilities.
Box of Shifty Landlord Moves (§103; §113; §118; §121)
|Not giving proper written notice. See section on written notice.|
|Not performing the legal duties of a landlord; i.e., not holding up their end of the bargain. See §118, §121.|
|Not following the legal process in the right order. See eviction process section.|
|Sketchy content in the rental agreement; i.e., anything that undermines the Landlord and Tenant Act. See §103 (B), §113, §126.|
|False allegations. Did the tenant really violate the agreement?|
|Denial or ending of an agreement because of a service dog or other illegal discrimination. See §113.1|
Box of Dutiful Tenant Moves (§127)
|Keep the premises as clean and sanitary as possible.|
|Don’t destroy or deface the dwelling or premises on purpose or through neglect, and don’t allow your dog, your toddler, or your friend to do so.|
|Dispose of waste properly, which seems redundant of the above, and I’d be nervous to ask why both need to be stated.|
|Don’t disturb the peace of other tenants or allow your dog, your toddler, or your friend to do so.|
|Keep the unit’s plumbing fixtures clean and sanitary. Again: suspiciously redundant.|
|Comply with the rental agreement as long as it’s legal. Check legality against §113 and §126.|
|Use the facilities and appliances provided in the unit safely and nondestructively.|
|Don’t commit crimes, use illegal drugs, or allow your dog, your toddler, or your friend to do so.|
What is the eviction process in Oklahoma?
So, what is the actual process of eviction in Oklahoma? Plenty of variables complicate the question, but we’ll describe a few possible paths. In addition to the Oklahoma Landlord and Tenant Act, information on legal proceedings for this section comes from the Oklahoma Statutes, §12, which describes Civil Procedure.
- Pre-filing. The first question to ask is why the eviction is being pursued: certain causes warrant immediate termination, while some require a short wait. (See the full explanation of causes for termination above.) Failure to evacuate, some instances of rental agreement violation, and drug related or criminal activity all warrant immediate termination, no waiting required. For a rental agreement violation to warrant immediate termination, it must either be a second minor offense or an offense potentially harmful to a person or the property.
Alternatively, in cases of failure to pay rent and other instances of rental agreement violation, there is an initial waiting period before termination. For failure to pay rent, the landlord gives written notice and waits five days for payment; without it, the eviction may move forward. For a minor agreement violation, the landlord gives written notice and waits ten days for the tenant to comply; if they do not, fifteen days from the written notice, the eviction may move forward.
Step 1: 0-15 days
- Filing. The legal process of eviction begins when the landlord files an action for forcible entry or detainer against the tenant (§105). This is done in the relevant district court and includes a filing fee (OK Statutes §12-1148.1). The court then schedules a hearing for 5-10 days later and serves the tenant, giving full notice of the complaint against the tenant and their need to appear in court on the appropriate date. Service must take place at least 3 days before the court date. (OK Statutes §12-1148.4-§12-1148.5)
Step 2: 5-10 days
- Trial and Judgment. Trial will generally take place in the district small claims court (OK Statutes §12-1148.14). If the tenant does not appear in court, the judge may issue a default judgment in favor of the landlord. If the tenant does appear, the defense must show that the landlord violated some law either in his responsibilities as a landlord or in the eviction process–see the Box of Shifty Landlord Moves for possibilities. The tenant may bring evidence that the allegations made by the landlord are false, or that the landlord failed in some step of the legal process, like giving proper notice.
- What is an attachment, like in OK Statutes §12-1151?
- Either party may request a jury, which adds time.
If the landlord wins the trial, the landlord may request a writ of execution, which is the tenant’s last notice to vacate the dwelling willingly. If the trial is early enough in the day, the writ may be procured on that same day. If not, it may take a few days. The tenant may choose to file for a retrial within three days after the hearing, but this will not stop the eviction process. (OK Statutes §12-1148.10)
Step 3: 0-3 days
- Removal. Upon receiving a writ of execution, the landlord or law enforcement officer must deliver a certified copy of the writ to the tenant. This can be done either in person to the tenant or other resident or by posting conspicuous notice on the dwelling. When delivering the writ, the landlord or officer should inform the tenant that enforcement will take place in 48 hours. After this time has elapsed, the landlord may return to take possession of the property, which should then be vacant. If the tenant has yet to leave, the landlord may contact law enforcement to remove the tenant from the dwelling. (OK Statutes §12-1148.10A)
What about the stuff and the money?
What happens, you may wonder, if someone leaves their stuff in a rented unit? What about reimbursement for rent or legal fees? We’ve got laws for that.
The Stuff (§130)
Suppose a tenant either abandons a rental unit or is evicted, but they leave possessions in the unit. The first question to ask is whether the stuff is worth anything. Is it a bag of cheetos, some hangers, and a houseplant? The landlord is welcome to dispose of perishable property or property with no “ascertainable value” as he chooses: adopt that plant, trash the rest.
But perhaps, instead, the tenant has left a couch, a TV, and an extensive collection of Pokèmon cards. If the property does have “ascertainable value,” the landlord should take possession of the property and give appropriate written notice to the tenant. If the tenant fails to reclaim the property within thirty days, the landlord can do with it as he wishes: time to hit up Facebook Marketplace. In the meantime, the landlord must store the property safely and take reasonable care of it. If the tenant does reclaim the property, the landlord is entitled to a reasonable fee for the time he stored it: for instance, the cost of rent if the property stayed in the vacant unit.
The Money (§105; §115(B))
In any legal eviction dispute, the “prevailing party” is entitled to reimbursement of reasonable legal fees from the other party.
Additionally, any security deposit the landlord holds may be legally applied to cover any accrued rent or damages done by the tenant’s failure to uphold the rental agreement. In this case, the landlord should deliver to the tenant an itemized list of the charges by mail, return receipt requested. The tenant must submit a written request for the return of any remainder of the security deposit to the landlord within six months of the termination of the lease agreement, or it is forfeited to the landlord. If delinquent rent exceeds the amount of the security deposit, a landlord may also bring an action against a tenant for recovery of rent.
What about wrongful eviction?
Suppose a landlord attempts eviction outside of the cases allowed by Oklahoma law. In this case, the tenant may either (a) recover possession of the dwelling by bringing a lawsuit in court, or (b) give notice and terminate the rental agreement. In either case, the landlord may be financially liable to the tenant for the greater of either two times the monthly price of rent or the actual damages of having been evicted. (§123)
On the other hand, if the landlord brings an action against the tenant in court, the tenant may by all means defend against the landlord’s accusations. Knowing the proper legal procedure the landlord must follow for eviction and knowing the landlord’s responsibilities (§118) may assist in defending against accusation in court. If the tenant wins in a lawsuit brought by the landlord, the tenant is entitled to reasonable legal fees.