How Landlords Should Prepare for Taking a Resident to Small Claims Court - dummies

How Landlords Should Prepare for Taking a Resident to Small Claims Court

By Robert S. Griswold, Laurence Harmon

Whenever landlords have a dispute with a resident that can’t be resolved, taking the matter to small-claims or municipal court is a viable option. Small-claims courts are typically funded through tax dollars, so court costs are minimal. The jurisdictional limits for these courts range from $2,000 to $15,000, but the majority are $5,000 or less. Consult with your local court for its limits.

Prior to the date of the hearing, gather all your evidence, which should be easy if you have a folder for your resident that includes documentation of all your transactions and interactions. Your evidence is likely to include the following items:

  • Your testimony and credibility

  • Written contracts (such as the lease and your policies and procedures)

  • Photographs

  • Written correspondence (letters, email, text messages)

  • Documentation of any oral communication (in person or over the phone)

  • Witness testimony (either in person or a written statement signed by the witness and notarized)

  • Documentation of steps you’ve taken to mitigate any damages you’re claiming (for example, evidence that you tried to rent the apartment after the resident abandoned the unit to minimize the lost rent)

Prepare a timeline that traces the history of the matter you’re bringing to court, so you have it clear in your mind and can present events in chronological order. You should also clearly label each document that supports a portion of your testimony in sequential chronological order so it’s easy for the court (and even your resident) to follow your presentation.

The court has to decide based on often conflicting testimony so make sure you are prepared and organized and are able to articulate your position on the issues while providing documents that support your version of the facts. A clear, consistent story of exactly what happened improves your credibility.