How To Prepare For An Eviction Court Hearing
February 21, 2023
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No one wants to deal with an eviction court hearing.
However, as a landlord, it’s a situation you could find yourself in.
And it’s critical to prepare ahead of time if you do.
In this article, we’ll go through the process you should follow and key steps to make sure you put your best foot forward.
Before we dive into the preparation, let’s look at the eviction process. It can be broken down into seven steps:
- You prepare an official notice for the tenant. This could be any of the notice types we outline in this article – How To Evict A Tenant?
- You or an authorized representative deliver the notice through proper methods of delivery and allow the tenant a set amount of time to vacate the premises.
- If your tenant doesn’t vacate the premises within the allotted time, you start a lawsuit with the local court.
- The court contacts you and the tenant to set a hearing date.
- On the date of the hearing, you must first prove that the tenant broke the lease, you served the proper notice, you didn’t accept rent after serving the notice, and your tenant hasn’t moved or turned over the keys. Your tenant will then have a chance to present their counterarguments.
- The court decides how to rule on the eviction (most cases favor the landlord).
- The case is sent out to law enforcement with directions to escort the tenant from the property if they still refuse to leave. You will then want to change locks and take back possession of the property.
Preparing for the Court Hearing
Now that you have a better idea of the process, we’ll move on to getting ready for the eviction court hearing. There are a few tips that will help you:
Tip 1: Prepare All Documentation
Proper documentation is critical. You need proof of the documentation you sent out and any documentation the court may need to see during the hearing. Here’s a checklist to help you:
- Proof that you sent a formal eviction notice to the tenant
- Evidence that you waited for the formal eviction notice deadline until you moved forward with eviction proceedings
- Documentation for an unlawful detainer suit with the local court
- Documentation required by your state or local laws
Tip 2: Consider Legal Representation
The first step is to figure out if you need a lawyer to help with your case. You typically won’t need one, but it’s important to rule it out. The cost is usually greater than the potential benefits.
However, you want to consider a lawyer if your case is quite complex or you’re in one of these situations:
- It’s your first eviction lawsuit, and you’re confused.
- The case involves a housing program or rent control program.
- Your tenant obtained a lawyer.
- Your tenant is filing for bankruptcy.
- Your tenant was employed by you or connected to you in any way outside of the traditional landlord-tenant relationship.
Most evictions, though, are typically more expedient than average civil suits, so this is a big reason a lawyer probably won’t be necessary. Courts handle them often, and the time investment is usually shorter than other types of cases.
Tip 3: Dress Appropriately
Next, it’s in your best interest to make a good first impression. Clothing that is clean, pressed, and presentable is the way to go. Avoid wearing work uniforms, jeans, sleeveless shirts, miniskirts, and other clothing that isn’t at least semi-professional. You don’t want to make the judge think this is a casual event for you. You’re a business owner who takes your job seriously, and you want to convey that to the court.
Tip 4: Speak Concisely and Calmly
You will get a feel for the judge quickly. Understand the judge’s style and respond in turn. Don’t interrupt the judge or your tenant. The judge will ask you direct questions when they want your input.
Prepare some general points you want to make and have a clear idea of the points you need to highlight. You don’t need to have every word you want to say planned out, though, as you don’t want to seem wooden or dishonest. And remain calm no matter what happens. Evictions typically trigger a lot of emotion in all parties, but acting on that emotion won’t help you get your property back.
Your documentation is your friend. Refer to it often and use it to back up your statements. The judge will most likely interrupt you and your tenant at certain points to expedite the process, so don’t let that fluster you.
Lastly, treat everyone in court with respect (including your tenant). Evictions aren’t fun for anyone, and you’re not going to win any points by being mean-spirited. Your goal is to regain possession of your property and find a better tenant, not get into a shouting match with other people.
What if Your Tenant Skips the Hearing?
Sometimes tenants don’t show up for the eviction court hearing. The court may rule a default judgment in your favor if you ask.
A default judgment rules the case in your favor because the tenant didn’t respond to the summons or appear in court. There is a great chance this judgment occurs if you show up with the proper documentation. So, it’s critical to ensure you have all the paperwork you need.
Be Prepared for Anything
At the end of the day, your best bet is to prepare for a variety of outcomes. For instance, even if your tenant moves out prior to the eviction court hearing, you still want to show up ready to go. If your tenant shows up and you don’t, you will probably be responsible for the associated court costs.
If your tenant doesn’t move out, you both show up for the court case, and you win, then the judge will explain the next steps. You will receive a writ of possession showing your right to take back the property with the help of law enforcement, if necessary.
The judge will also decide how much unpaid rent, court costs, and other fees must be paid. The judge will explain the specific decisions at the end of the hearing.
On the other hand, if the tenant wins the case, they can typically remain on the property. The length of time they can stay will depend on the lease and local laws. The judge will also likely require you to pay fees to cover the tenant’s expenses regarding the hearing.
Your preparation for eviction hearings is critical. By following the tips and steps above, you give yourself the best possible chance to win the case.