July 25, 2000
EVICTION--GROUNDS AND PROCEDURE
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Senior Attorney
You wanted to know if a tenant can be evicted for no reason. If not, you wanted to know the grounds for eviction. You also wanted a description of the procedure after a tenant receives an eviction notice.
A landlord cannot evict a tenant for no reason. He must base his decision on one of five legally sufficient grounds for eviction: lapse of time, nonpayment of rent, material noncompliance with the lease, breach of statutory duties, and illegal conduct or serious nuisance.
Once a landlord has established a ground for eviction, he begins the process by serving the tenant with a notice to quit. If the tenant fails to respond to this notice by refusing to move from the rented premises, the landlord may initiate proceedings in Superior Court by filing a summons and complaint. The tenant can respond to the complaint. If a tenant contests the action, the court tries the case and enters judgment. The process ends when the court orders the judgment executed and the sheriff executes it by removing the tenant and his belongings.
GROUNDS FOR EVICTION
Connecticut recognizes the following five grounds for eviction:
1. Expiration of the Lease. Once a lease expires, the landlord is under no obligation to renew it (unless the tenant is age 62 or older, blind, or disabled and lives in a building with five or more units and thus cannot be terminated without a legally sufficient reason, such as nonpayment of rent or permanent removal of the unit from the housing market). This is true whether the lease is written or oral, year-to-year, or month-to-month (CGS § 47a-15).
2. Nonpayment of Rent. If a tenant does not pay his rent, the landlord may evict him after a nine-day grace period for tenants on a month-to-month lease and a four-day grace period for week-to-week tenants. Rent paid during the grace period nullifies nonpayment as a ground for termination.
3. Breach of Tenant's Statutory Duties. Tenants have certain duties imposed on them by statute. Basically, these are to refrain from creating a nuisance or defacing the premises, to obey the health and fire codes, and to keep the premises clean and safe. If the tenant corrects the problem within 15 days and has not caused the same problem within the past six months, it nullifies the breach.
4. Breach of Lease Terms. A landlord may impose lease terms beyond just rental payments. Breach of these terms is a ground for eviction. The terms must, however, be rational, apply to everyone, and pertain to such things as the welfare of others or property damage prevention. As with a breach of statutory duties, if the tenant cures the breach within 15 days and has not caused the same problem within the past six months, it nullifies the breach.
5. Illegal Conduct or Serious Nuisance. Assaulting the landlord or other tenants, or using the premises for gambling, prostitution, or to sell drugs is grounds for eviction. Unlike in cases of breaches of lease terms or statutory duties, tenants cannot cure an eviction based on illegal conduct or serious nuisance (CGS §§ 47a-15 and -31).
SUMMARY PROCESS PROCEDURE
As stated above, summary process (eviction) begins when the landlord serves the notice to quit and files the summons and complaint. We have briefly described below the entire summary process, including statutory minimum time frames. Of course the actual amount of time it takes to evict a tenant depends on a number of factors, including whether the tenant has a defense he intends to pursue and the landlord's diligence in complying with the summary process law. Generally, the process is as follows.
1. Notice to Quit. The landlord must serve the notice to quit five days before a rental agreement is terminated or five days before the time specified in the notice to quit (CGS § 47a-23).
2. Summons and Complaints. If the tenant does not quit possession by the end of the five-day period, any commissioner of the Superior Court may issue a summons and complaint to be served upon the tenant. The landlord may have the complaint served on any day of the week and may have it returnable six days thereafter. He must return it to the court at least three days before the return day (CGS § 47a-23a).
3. Appearance. A tenant must respond to the summons and complaint by filing an appearance with the court within two days after the return date. If the tenant does not file an appearance, the landlord may file (a) a motion for judgment for failure to appear and (b) an endorsed copy of the notice to quit with the court clerk. The court must then enter a judgment against the tenant and issue an order to vacate (CGS § 47a-26).
4. Answer to Complaint. In addition to filing an appearance, the tenant should file a summary process answer within two days after the return date. If the tenant does not file an answer within the two-day period, a landlord can file a motion for judgment based on failure to plead. And if the tenant fails to plead within three days after receipt of the motion by the clerk, the court must enter judgment against the tenant (CGS § 47a-26a).
5. Trial. A trial is scheduled after pleadings are closed (after the complaint has been answered and any special defenses have been raised and countered) (CGS § 47a-26d).
6. Judgment and Execution. A judgment is entered after the trial. If judgment is entered for a landlord, he must ask the court for an order of execution, which requires the tenant to move. After the court issues the execution, it must be given to a sheriff for proper service. The sheriff then serves the execution on the tenant. The sheriff is required to use reasonable efforts to locate and notify the tenant of the eviction date and time. After this period, the sheriff can physically remove the tenant's possession (CGS § 47-26d).
7. Stay of Execution. The law provides for an automatic five-day stay of execution (CGS § 47a-35). During the five days, a tenant can ask the court for an additional stay of up to six months.
A landlord can file a motion for use and occupancy once a tenant files an appearance. Once the motion is filed, the court can order a tenant to pay the last agreed-upon rent to the court during the pendency of the summary of process action (CGS § 47a-26b).