Sometimes, despite trying everything to avoid it, you might need to take your landlord to small claims court for violations of your rental agreement. The proper court procedures an necessary steps for a successful suit are complicated and can be confusing.
Notify Your Landlord and Keep Records
The first step you must have already done prior to beginning a suit in small claims court you must have documentation of your problem. To have a standing, or a true dispute, in court, you must be able to show that there was a violation of a part of the rental agreement, that your landlord was notified of this violation and that the landlord refused or failed to fix the problem so that there was no longer a violation. The best way to show this is to keep a record of the lease and all other contact you have had with the landlord. During the court proceedings, you will be able to use this documentation as evidence of your claim.
It is also important, but not necessarily required, for you to make one final notification to your landlord that should the violation not be fixed you intend to file a claim in small claims court. This will show the court that you tried your absolute best to avoid going to court.
File Your Claim
A small claims court has fewer steps and required filings than other court cases. There is also a limit to the amount of damages you can request for your case to be heard in small claims court. Often, the case must not have a recovery value of larger than $5,000.00. Attorney representation is often prohibited in small claims court to keep the cost of such cases to a minimum.
Contact your local court to determine the requirements for your case to be heard in small claims court and what paperwork needs to be filed to begin the process. The court will have a Clerk of Court that will provide you with the necessary information. The Clerk of Court will be able to provide you with the paperwork to fill out and documentation of the required steps.
Typically, in a small claims case you must first file your claim with the court. This requires you to complete a form providing the names and contact information of the involved parties, your claim and the reason why your claim should be heard by the court. At this step, you may or may not choose to provide copies of your contact with the landlord and lease, but in any case these documents will need to be brought to court during the hearing. After filing your claim, the next step is for you to notify the landlord that you have filed a lawsuit. To do so, you must send a copy of the claim to the landlord with a return receipt showing that the landlord has been notified of the suit. No case can be heard by a court without all parties being on notice that a lawsuit exists.
Attend the Hearing
After filing your claim and providing notice to the landlord, you must attend the court hearing regarding your claim. At this time, the court will hear both sides of the argument and review any documentation. After this, the court will orally pronounce the winner in court. In a few days, the court will release a written Order in which it will detail which party won and what the loser must do to fulfill any obligations.
Should either party fail to appear at the hearing, the case will either be postponed or fully dismissed. If your landlord does not come to the hearing and you are able to show that he has received notice of the lawsuit and time of the hearing, you may win by default. In this instance, you are still able to obtain what you sought from the landlord.
Following the court’s ruling, you may enforce the order to receive what it has ordered. If you have not received the check, repairs or other services the court ordered the landlord to provide, you must notify the court of the landlord’s failure. If you are unsuccessful in your suit, you may appeal the court’s findings.