What is a Writ of Possession, and What Does It Mean for Tenants?
A writ of possession is a court order that authorizes a law enforcement officer to remove a tenant and their possessions from a rental home. A landlord can request a writ of possession if the tenant won’t voluntarily leave the home after they get the original notice to vacate.
A writ of possession isn’t the same as an eviction. It’s just one possible step in the eviction process, and it isn’t always needed.
A writ of possession is sometimes called a writ of eviction. A writ is a legal order to either start or stop doing something. This type of writ legally orders the occupant to stop residing in the home by giving the right to possession back to the landlord.
In other words, the tenant will need to move out within the time stated on the writ, or an officer can legally remove occupants from the property.
A writ of possession is a last resort
Many evictions won’t need a writ of possession. But when they do, it’s usually one of the last steps in the eviction process.
A landlord won’t need to file a writ of possession if they legally tell a tenant they’re being evicted and the tenant leaves voluntarily. If the tenant stays, the writ allows law enforcement to remove them from the rental property.
A writ of possession can be issued for many reasons
Any time a writ of possession is granted, it means the landlord won an eviction court hearing, but the tenant hasn’t left the rental property yet.
A landlord needs to have at least one court-approved reason to evict their tenant. These can include:
- Unpaid rent
- Property damage
- Unauthorized residents living at the rental property
- Unauthorized pets at the home
- Unauthorized subletting of the home (including short-term renting)
- Tenant isn’t abiding by health and safety standards
- Tenant has committed acts of domestic violence
- Tenant is using the rental unit for illegal activity
- Any other violations of the lease agreement
Writs of possession can also be used during the foreclosure process, but this only affects homeowners, not renters.
How long do you have to move after a writ of possession is posted?
It depends where you live. Once the writ is granted and vacate notice is served, states give tenants anywhere from a day to more than a week to move. This timeframe will be listed on the notice.
For example, a tenant living in a rental house in Austin, TX, will have a minimum of 24 hours to leave once the final notice is posted. But a tenant living in an apartment in Atlanta, GA, will have at least a week to move.
If this date passes and the tenant hasn’t left, a law enforcement officer can “execute” the writ and remove them from the home.
Remember that this is only one possible piece of an eviction timeline. The entire process can take several weeks, depending on state laws and how quickly the landlord, court, and sheriff act.
Sample eviction timeline
Several things need to happen before a landlord can ask for a writ of possession. A typical eviction process might look like this:
- The landlord gives the tenant a written notice to vacate. The notice allows the tenant a certain number of days to voluntarily leave the rental property. The notice must follow state guidelines.
- The landlord files an eviction suit. If the tenant doesn’t leave voluntarily, the landlord can take the issue to county court. Filing an eviction suit starts the court process but doesn’t decide the final outcome. At this point, an officer usually delivers another written notice to the tenant that tells them the eviction process has started.
- The tenant and landlord go to court for an eviction hearing. If the landlord wins the eviction suit, the tenant is legally required to leave the home. If the tenant is a no-show, the landlord wins by default. If the landlord doesn’t show, the tenant wins.
- The tenant can appeal or voluntarily vacate. The tenant has a certain number of days to either appeal the decision or move out of the home, depending on the state.
- The landlord asks for a writ of possession. A writ is issued if the appeal date passes and the tenant hasn’t moved out.
- A law enforcement officer oversees the move-out. An officer serves the notice to vacate after another short period. Once this deadline passes, an officer can legally remove the tenant and their possessions from the property. A locksmith will replace or rekey all door locks before the officer leaves.
What happens to a tenant’s possessions?
If a tenant’s possessions are still at the home when the writ is enforced, the landlord can remove them (or have them removed) while the officer is at the property.
Some states require a landlord to keep the tenant’s property in storage for a certain amount of time. Other states give landlords immediate control over any possessions left behind. Once the landlord has ownership, they can choose to keep, sell, or throw away the items if they want to.
Can a writ of possession be stopped?
A judge can stop a writ of possession in some cases. A tenant or their attorney can file a motion to stay in the period of time after the writ is issued. This motion asks the judge to stay (stop) the writ of possession.
Tenants will need to provide a reason for filing a motion to stay the writ of possession. An emergency court hearing will be scheduled if the judge approves their request. If the judge doesn’t approve it, the eviction process moves forward, and an officer can enforce the writ of possession.
A tenant can also appeal the overall eviction decision, but this step happens before a writ of possession is issued.
Redfin does not provide legal, tax, or financial advice. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice from a licensed attorney, tax professional, or financial advisor.