A magistrate may sit as a judge of a landlord-tenant court. This discussion will concentrate on rental agreements for a personal residence such as an apartment or single family home as opposed to rental of a business.

The South Carolina Residential Landlord Tenant Act applies to a rental agreement for a personal residence.

The great majority of landlord tenant disputes have to do with the nonpayment of rent or failure by a tenant or a landlord to maintain the rental unit.

Failure by a landlord or a tenant to comply with the rental agreement or any provisions of the South Carolina Residential Landlord Tenant Act, gives the landlord or tenant a right to file a claim with the magistrate's court. Personnel in the magistrate's court will explain the procedure you must follow.

The Residential Landlord Tenant Act specifically sets out the obligations of the landlord and the tenant in reference to security deposits, maintenance of the rental premises, the right to enter the rental unit, the obligation to provide essential services to the tenant, as well as other points.

A landlord or a tenant may be able to recover money damages and in some instances attorney fees in the event of a violation of the rental agreement or the Landlord-Tenant Act.

After a lease has been terminated, if the tenant refuses to move out, then the landlord may seek an Order of eviction in Magistrates Court. The tenant is entitled to a notice of the proceedings and a hearing. The Magistrate will issue a written Order requiring the tenant to immediately move out or to explain to the Magistrate within 10 days after service of the Order upon the tenant, why he should not be evicted. If no one can be found in possession of the rental unit for a period of 15 days or more, a copy of the Order may be served by posting it on the most obvious part of the premises.

If the tenant notifies the Magistrate that he contests the ejectment, a hearing will be held and the tenant is entitled to a trial by jury, if he requests it. If the verdict is for the landlord, the Magistrate will issue an Order of ejectment within 5 days, and the tenant shall be ejected by a Deputy Sheriff of the County. The Deputy Sheriff who carries out the Order of ejectment, presents a copy of the Order to the tenant, and gives the tenant an opportunity to vacate voluntarily. If the tenant refuses to vacate or the premises appear unoccupied, the Deputy Sheriff, if necessary, may then enter the rental unit by force, using the least destructive means possible, in order to eject the tenant. The Deputy Sheriff may use discretion in delaying the removal of ill or elderly tenants.

If the landlord knowingly makes an unlawful entry into the tenant's dwelling unit, or repeated lawful entries in an unreasonable manner, or makes repeated demands for entry and thereby harasses the tenant, the tenant may seek an order against the landlord in Magistrates or Circuit Court to prevent the conduct from continuing, or to terminate the rental agreement. In either case, the tenant may recover actual damages and reasonable attorney's fees.

If the landlord unlawfully removes or prohibits the tenant from occupying the dwelling unit, or willfully causes interruption of essential services, such as water, electricity and heating, then the tenant can go to Magistrates Court to require the landlord to give him possession, or the tenant may terminate the rental agreement and, in either case, recover an amount equal to three months rent or twice the actual damages suffered by him, whichever is greater, plus reasonable attorney's fees. If the rental agreement is terminated, the tenant is also entitled to the return of his security deposit.

Employees of the Magistrate's Court will help you file your claim in writing and will explain how your case proceeds through trial.

For more information, read Eviction, Rights and Duties of Tenants and Rights and Duties of Landlords.

This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 803-799-7100.