Commercial Property Eviction Guide
Commercial Property Eviction Guide (Oklahoma)
Commercial leases come with higher stakes than the standard residential lease. Dollar amounts are higher, terms are longer, and the use of the leased space is typically more severe. For information on residential evictions, see our helpful Oklahoma residential eviction guide.
One of the most difficult aspects of commercial real estate is dealing with tenants who have breached their lease agreement terms and must be evicted. This process is called “forcible entry and detainer” in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the process of commercial real estate evictions can be lengthy, complicated, and expensive. If there are missteps along the way, the time, complication, and expense will only increase.
Commercial eviction steps in Oklahoma:
- Review the terms of the lease agreement. One of the problems with navigating a commercial eviction issue, or any commercial lease issue, is that commercial leases are not standardized or template leases in Oklahoma; many landlords use the same lease across their portfolio of properties, but there is no standard commercial lease used across the industry. The Oklahoma Real Estate Commission (OREC) publishes an optional standard purchase and sale agreement for commercial transactions, but no lease templates. That means each commercial lease is likely to have unique terms and conditions which are specific to the landlord’s needs, the leased premises, the tenant’s requirements, the intended use, etc. Landlords should be very careful to follow the specific terms included in their lease agreements before proceeding with an eviction. A lease that is poorly written or lacks crucial terms can make it more difficult to properly evict a tenant. Contact Avenue Legal Group for help preparing an enforceable Oklahoma commercial lease agreement.
- Provide written notice of the tenant’s actions (or inactions) that constitute default. Landlords are typically required to provide a written notice to the tenant that outlines the failure to pay rent, failure to maintain the property, unapproved additions or improvements to the property, or any other breach of the terms of the lease agreement. Some leases require that the tenant be given time to “cure” or remedy the actions/inactions of default. Providing formal notice is important because it documents the landlord’s willingness to follow the terms of the lease, as well as shows the landlord’s attempts to resolve the situation before resorting to legal action or court procedures.
- Proceed with written notice of termination of the lease. If the tenant fails to cure the default within the permitted time, the landlord may be able to proceed with written termination of the lease, which should also include a specific move-out date.
- Move forward with preparing and filing an eviction lawsuit. If the tenant still remains in the property after the designated move-out date and still has not cured the default, the landlord can file an eviction action with the proper county court (in the county where the leased property is located). There will be a filing fee to commence the action, which is paid to the county court clerk.
- Serve the tenant/defendant with notice of the lawsuit. The lawsuit has not been properly commenced until the defendant gets notice of the action. There are specific rules in Oklahoma state statutes about how to serve defendants in a civil action.
- The tenant must respond to the lawsuit or a judgment will be entered against them. Once served with notice, a tenant has a short amount of time to respond to the lawsuit and present any possible claims, defenses, or arguments against the landlord or the eviction claim. If the tenant fails to respond altogether, the court may grant judgment to the landlord by default.
- First comes judgment, then comes writ. Once the landlord has obtained a court judgment in their favor, the landlord may need to obtain a specific type of court order called a “writ of assistance”, “writ of execution”, or just “writ” for short. This order commands the county sheriff to forcibly remove the tenant from the premises.
- Deal with the leftover personal property. Commercial real estate evictions frequently result in a landlord having to manage, protect, sell, or otherwise dispose of the non-fixture property that the tenant has left behind in the leased premises.
Can the landlord simply change the locks? While this is a common approach, it almost always violates the terms of the lease agreement as well as state law. Some carefully written commercial leases do allow the landlord to re-enter or retake possession of the property without court action (often called non-judicial repossession or non-judicial eviction), but this is rare – and it is rarely done without a “breach of the peace.”
Landlords should be especially careful of excluding the tenant from a property if the tenant will lose significant revenue from the lock-out or will not be able to access valuable personal property, tools, or other items which are essential for the tenant’s business operations. Any lock-out which is not performed by the county sheriff at the order of the court could have negative financial consequences for the tenant, which would allow the tenant to seek financial damages from the landlord.
Oklahoma courts treat commercial leases differently than residential leases. Oklahoma judges and courts generally treat commercial agreements differently than residential lease agreements. Why is that? There is a presumption that parties to a commercial agreement are more sophisticated and knowledgeable parties than the average party in a residential lease situation. Therefore, commercial landlords and commercial tenants should be careful to obtain experienced legal counsel when it is time to draft, negotiate, execute, and enforce a commercial lease.
It helps to have an experienced commercial real estate attorney on your side. Avenue Legal Group helps clients navigate any and all stages of commercial transactions and leases throughout Oklahoma, representing both landlords and tenants. Contact Avenue Legal Group to ask questions or discuss how we can help with your commercial lease, from letter of intent stage through the end of a commercial eviction.
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