What Is Landlord Tenant Court?
From Filing a Claim to Winning the Case
There are times when a landlord and a tenant cannot resolve a conflict on their own. In these situations, a landlord may take the tenant to court to recover possession of the unit. In most areas, these housing related issues are heard in landlord tenant court. Here are the basics of landlord tenant court.
Note: These are general rules and procedures. Every state and municipality will have different rules, so you must contact the local court where your rental property is located to determine the exact procedures you must follow.
What Claims Can Be Filed in Landlord Tenant Court?
In general, a landlord and tenant will go to landlord tenant court when the landlord is trying to evict the tenant from the unit. Reasons a landlord may be trying to recover possession of a unit include:
- The Tenant Has Not Paid Rent
- The Tenant Consistently Pays Rent Late
- The Tenant Has Caused Damage to the Property
- The Tenant Is Disrupting Other Tenants in the Building
- The Tenant Has Been Convicted of a Drug Related Offense
- The Tenant Has Violated Other Terms of the Lease Agreement
Before being able to file to evict a tenant for unpaid rent, a landlord must usually send the tenant a written notice to pay rent or quit. For other violations, the landlord must send the tenant a notice to quit the behavior. Once the tenant receives the notice, he or she has a certain number of days to comply with it, depending on the offense and your state’s rules.
If, after receiving the notice, the tenant does not pay the rent they owe or if they do not quit the behavior that is violating the lease, you can then file to evict the tenant. Depending on your state’s laws, you may also have to send the tenant a notice that you are terminating their tenancy before you file for the eviction.
Can You Represent Yourself?
Again, this will vary based on the specific rules in your state or municipality. In general, if your property is owned as a limited liability corporation, limited partnership or some other corporate entity, you will likely have to hire an attorney to represent you in court. If you own the property in your own name, you will usually be allowed to represent yourself in court if you so choose.
File the Complaint
Filing a complaint in landlord tenant court is usually a two part process. You will have to fill out the appropriate paperwork and then pay a fee.
- Fill Out Appropriate Paperwork
You will usually have to go to the court in person to fill out the paperwork to file for the eviction. Some courts make these forms available online.
You will have to fill out general information about yourself and your property, such as name and address. You will have to fill out general information about the tenant you are filing to evict, such as name and address. You will then have to provide the specific reason you are filing to regain possession of the unit. Depending on the reason for the eviction, you may have to provide copies of any notices you have sent the tenant to quit the behavior.
- Pay the Fee
In order to have your case heard in court, you must pay the court fee. It will vary, but is usually less than one hundred dollars.
Get Your Court Date
After you have filed your complaint with the court, you will usually receive a notice in the mail informing you of the date your case is scheduled in court. It will usually include the time you must arrive, as well as the general court address and specific room number or location where your case will be heard.
Prepare for Court
Whether you are the landlord or the tenant, you must provide evidence which backs up your side of the story. This could include copies of the lease agreement, photographs, rent receipts, notices sent or received, bills or estimates for damage. The tenant must also bring any back rent or other money owed in case the judge rules in the landlord’s favor.
If you are trying to have a third party witness back up your claim, that witness must physically appear in court on the day of the trail. A signed statement by this third party witness cannot be used as evidence.
On the day of the trail, before going before a judge, the landlord and tenant will be given the option of meeting with a mediator to settle the case. Often, the landlord and tenant will be able to come to a mutual agreement without having to go before the judge.
Go Before a Judge
If the landlord and tenant are not able to settle their case by using a mediator, they will go before the judge. Each side will be able to provide their evidence to back up their side of the story. The judge will examine the evidence and rule in favor of the landlord or the tenant.
If the judge rules in favor of the tenant, the case will be dismissed. If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, the landlord will be granted a judgment for possession.
Judgment for Possession
If the landlord wins the case, the judge will give the tenant a date by which they must move out of the unit. If the tenant is not out of the unit by this date, the landlord can pay an additional fee to obtain a warrant of removal. With this warrant, the tenant will be forcibly removed or locked out of the unit by a sheriff or other law enforcement officer.
Landlord Failure to Appear in Court
If the landlord fails to appear in court on the scheduled date of trail, the case will be dismissed.
Tenant Failure to Appear in Court
If the tenant fails to appear in court on the scheduled date of trail, the landlord will win the case by default. The landlord will be awarded a judgment for possession as long as the landlord fills out the appropriate paperwork.
Eviction for Nonpayment
If the landlord has filed to evict the tenant for nonpayment and the tenant comes to court with the full amount of rent owed, the case will be dismissed.
Tenant issues involving money owed can be taken to small claims court. Each state or municipality will have a different maximum amount of money that can be sought in these cases. It is usually between $2,000 and $5,000, but some courts will allow a maximum of $10,000. Issues over the return of a tenant’s security deposit or damage done to the unit often wind up in small claims court.