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What is a Writ of Restitution?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 16, 2024
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A writ of restitution is a court order that allows a landlord to enter a rented premises pursuant an eviction to remove any personal property left there. Most of the time, it is the final step in an eviction proceeding. Its main object is to give a property owner legal recourse over a tenant who has failed to vacate even after being served with an eviction notice. The writ is a way for the landlord to involve the courts and the police in repossessing property, moving things left behind, and recovering damages from evicted tenants.

Generally speaking, the purpose of a writ of restitution is to allow a landlord to reclaim what is his with the backing of the court and police power. In most jurisdictions, it is used as a last resort. Courts usually prefer for landlords and tenants to amicably agree to the terms of an eviction, and to sort out property disputes between themselves.

Getting a writ of restitution is a multi-step process in most places. The landlord must usually first inform the tenant or tenants that their tenancy agreement has lapsed or breached, and must demand that they vacate. If that proves ineffective, they must usually get a court order mandating eviction. Eviction orders can sometimes be unilaterally granted by the court, but often require a hearing. In any event, an eviction order compels tenants to vacate by a certain set date.

A landlord can usually only get a writ of restitution after the eviction date has passed, but the tenants have not left. In many ways, the eviction order and the writ work together: the order requires the tenants to vacate, and the writ allows the landlord to enforce that vacation. Writs are usually endorsed by the local sheriff or police captain, as well as by the judge who issued the eviction order.

In some jurisdictions, the police have to be the ones to serve tenants with a writ of restitution. Other times, the landlord can effect service himself. Service can be in hand or by posting, depending on local rules. Police will also usually help the landlord with the physical eviction, including moving property out of the space and barring the tenants’ reentry.

Although the writ is designed primarily to give the landlord legal restitution, the tenants are not without rights. In most places, tenants who have been served with a writ of restitution can request that any personal property removed from the premises be held in secure storage. This request must usually be made within a few days of the writ’s issuance.

Tenants who make this request are usually responsible for paying the reasonable costs of that storage in order to get their things back. They may also be obligated to pay any money owed, either in rent or in property damage, in order to re-assume possession. Landlords are usually free to either sell or abandon any property for which storage has not been requested.

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