Unfortunately, in your career as a landlord, you will probably have occasion to take one of your tenants to small claims court. It may be because they have breached their lease or damaged your property, and negotiating with your tenant has failed. Maybe you have even attempted mediation, without success. Suing your tenant in small claims court may be your last chance to get compensation for the damages you have incurred.
While the particulars vary among jurisdictions, most small claims courts can be used as a remedy when you are seeking damages below $2500.
Some states or cities have instituted landlord-tenant courts dedicated to hearing cases between landlords and tenants. So, before you file a claim. Find out what your state or city mandates for your type of case.
While nothing you do can guarantee you a victory in court, there are things you can do to increase your chances of winning. Here are a few.
- Pursue legal remedies promptly. Even small claims court cases are subject to statutes of limitations. Each offense has a different time limit, so make sure that you do not wait too long to go to court. Also, pursuing your case when the evidence is fresh may help you come out on top.
- Check out your rights as a landlord. Because individual states and cities have different landlord/tenant laws, research those laws and make sure you actually have a case.
- Call up the court house. Contact your local small claims court to learn the particulars of bringing your case to court.
- File your claim. Hand in your paperwork and pay the filing fee. The fee for a small claim is usually $25, but this amount varies.
- Gather your documentation. Maintaining good records is the single best thing you can do to bolster your case. Be prepared to furnish your tenant’s application, their signed rental or lease agreement, repair bills, photos of the original condition of the property as we as photos of damage sustained, a log of offenses and when they occurred, and other related information. It’s always better to err on the side of providing too much documentation instead of too little.
- Rehearse your presentation. In small claims court, you will be asked to recount your side of the events that took place. Take some time to prepare your presentation ahead of time, especially if you are uncomfortable speaking in front of people. Organize your documentation into a timeline to assist you with this preparation. Run through it a couple of times before the day your case is scheduled to be heard, and again before you leave for the courthouse.
- Attend the hearing. Now that you are completely prepared, you will be able to go to your hearing knowing that you have done all in your power to present your case in its best light. It will then be up to the judge to decide which side is correct on the claim.