In South Carolina, you have a constitutional right to a trial by a jury in many types of lawsuits. An eviction is one where you can request a trial by jury. But you can waive your right to a jury trial if you do not request one properly. First, you must make the request IN WRITING. Second, you must give your written request to the magistrate's court at least five (5) BUSINESS days prior to the trial date. So, if your trial is set for a Monday, then you need to request the jury trial by the previous Monday, because the weekends do not count.
One common problem that comes up is that a tenant will call the magistrate court after being served with the Rule to Vacate or Show Cause. The magistrate court will then schedule the hearing to be held within the next three or four days. Since there are not five (5) working days before the hearing, the tenant has waived the right to a jury trial.
BEST PRACTICE FOR REQUESTING A JURY TRIAL: Request a jury trial in a written answer. After writing down your defenses to the eviction, conclude the answer with the statement "I request a jury trial."
There is one catch if you have not paid rent. Jury trials take more time before they are heard than bench trials. Because of this once you request a jury trial, the magistrate typically will hold a hearing, sometimes informally called a "bond hearing." At this hearing the magistrate will determine how much rent is owed. The magistrate will then order you to catch up the back due rent and to pay rent going forward while waiting for the jury trial. If you believe you are being overcharged because of the landlord's failure to maintain the property as required by the SC Residential Landlord Tenant Act, then the magistrate is supposed to set the rent at the fair-market rental value of the premises at the time of the hearing.
After the rent is set, if you fail to pay either the back due rent that the magistrate determines is owed, or the ongoing rent, then the magistrate is supposed to go ahead and issue the Writ of Ejectment. To understand what a Writ of Ejectment is, review the Lesson titled "If I lose the eviction hearing, when can I be put out?"