A trial is a word that can strike fear into the heart of any landlord, especially if they are facing a dispute. And while it’s true that this process can be complex and intimidating, the good news is that understanding the process can help to calm nerves and give property managers the best possible chance of success. Here are a few steps to keep in mind when preparing for a landlord-tenant trial:
Know the law
Familiarizing yourself with the applicable state and federal laws governing landlord-tenant relations will give you a big leg up in any trial. That includes understanding the requirements for things like notice and eviction and your rights and responsibilities as a property manager.
Many landlords make the mistake of assuming that they can do whatever they want because they own the property. But that’s not the case. The law sets out certain rights and responsibilities for landlords and tenants, and it’s essential to understand them before heading into court.
You might be surprised to learn that, in some cases, the law sometimes favors tenants over landlords. So, it’s essential to know what you’re up against before taking the following steps.
Collect the necessary evidence
A piece of evidence includes any documents related to the lease agreement, rental history, correspondence with the tenant, and any other relevant information. Organize this evidence in a way that will be easy to present to the judge or jury.
It would be best if you could include a timeline of events leading up to the dispute or put together a file of all the correspondence between you and the tenant. If there are any witnesses to the events in question, get their contact information.
The court will also need to see any relevant documents, so make sure to bring copies of those. Getting everything in an organized fashion will make it easier for you to present your case and give the court a better impression of you and your business.
Hire an attorney
While you are not required to have an attorney represent you in landlord-tenant court, it is strongly advisable. An experienced attorney will know the ins and outs of the law and will be able to guide you through the process. They can also help prepare your evidence and witnesses and cross-examine the other side’s witnesses.
If you decide to represent yourself, be aware that the court will hold you to the same standards as an attorney. That means you’ll need to know the law and be just as prepared. So, unless you’re confident in your ability to do that, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.
Serving the subpoena
A trial won’t get scheduled until the tenant gets served with a subpoena. This document tells the tenant that they must appear in court on a specific date and time. It also includes information about the case and what they need to bring.
The landlord or their attorney is responsible for serving a subpoena. That generally means hand-delivering it to the tenant or posting it on their door. But in some cases, it may need to be served by a process server. That’s someone who’s specifically trained and licensed to serve legal documents.
Either way, it’s crucial to ensure that the subpoena gets served correctly. If not, the court may throw out the case.
Prepare for court
On the day of the trial, arrive early and dress neatly and professionally. Remember that first impressions matter, so you want the court to see you as responsible and credible.
When you’re in the courtroom, be respectful and courteous to everyone, including the judge, the other attorney, and the witnesses. Answer all questions truthfully, even if you don’t like the answer. And always speak in a clear, concise manner.
Showing improper or argumentative will only reflect poorly on you and could hurt your case. Many landlord-tenant cases are decided based on the landlord’s credibility, so you want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
Respect the court’s decision
Once the judge makes a decision, you must abide by it. If they side with the tenant and order you to return their security deposit or make repairs to the property, you must do so.
If you don’t follow the court’s orders, the court could hold you in contempt. That means you could get fined or even jailed. So, it’s not worth it to try to skirt the law. Just follow the judge’s decision and move on.
Following these steps will help you prepare for a landlord-tenant trial and give you the best chance of success. But keep in mind that the law is complex, and each case is different. So, don’t hesitate to consult with an attorney to ensure you’re taking all the necessary steps.
After all, the goal is to protect your rights and property and come out on top in court.