At some point in a landlord’s career, it will be time to attend an eviction court hearing. Whether it’s because the tenant hasn’t paid rent or has violated the lease agreement in some way, there will be a time when the tenant should no longer be allowed to live in the property and the landlord needs to take action. A big part of the eviction process is the eviction court hearing, where one or both parties appear in front of a judge or commissioner to present their sides of the story.
Landlords can prepare well in advance for an eviction court hearing, and follow certain tips to ensure that they are presenting the most accurate version of events and by acting in such a way that they appear credible and knowledgeable in front of the judge.
Court Eviction Process
While there are specific variations from state to state, the eviction process follows a fairly specific series of steps that landlords must properly execute in order to remove a tenant from a rental property. Here is a brief 6 step overview of the eviction process.
- The landlord prepares an official notice to the tenant. It could be a “pay rent or quit” notice, a “cure or quit” notice or simply a “quit” notice, depending on the circumstances.
- The landlord delivers the notice via the acceptable methods of hand delivery at the rental unit or via certified mail, then waits for the tenant to comply or leave the premises.
- If the deadline passes and the tenant does not comply or vacate, the landlord begins an unlawful detainer lawsuit with the local court.
- The court will contact the tenant and the landlord for a hearing date, and both parties attend to present their information.
- The court makes a decision on the eviction and in most cases, the landlord wins the unlawful retainer lawsuit.
- The case is forwarded on to law enforcement, often the sheriff’s office, to escort the tenant from the property if they still refuse to vacate. Landlords can then change locks and take possession of the rental property.
What Happens at an Eviction Hearing
To ensure that the judge receives every bit of information about the situation, landlords need to gather any documents that will aid the case. Here are some of the documents landlords may need to bring copies of to turn over to the judge:
- Lease agreement
- Official notices
- Emails, notes or letters from the tenant
- Notes about phone conversations with the tenant
- Written statements from neighbors, if applicable
- Police reports, if applicable
- Photographs of damage or unsafe conditions, if applicable
- Building inspection reports, if applicable
Having these documents will establish that the series of events as state by the landlord are in fact what actually occurred. There is no detail that is too small to include, because each piece fits together to present a clear story to the judge. The key to winning an eviction case is to convince the judge of the landlord’s version of the facts. To do this, the landlord must bring in the evidence to back everything up.
The Day of Court Eviction
Many landlords don’t know what to expect at their first eviction hearing, so it’s important to learn as much as you can about how to dress and act at an eviction hearing.
How to Dress for Eviction Court
When attending a court hearing, it’s a good idea for landlords to wear their best business clothing. That doesn’t mean a full suit and tie for men or a business suit for women, necessarily. As long as the clothing is clean, simple and pressed, it should be sufficient for court. Landlords should avoid wearing work clothing, jeans, T-shirts, tank tops, miniskirts and other extreme clothing. The idea is to make a good impression with the judge and demonstrate that the landlord is a business owner with some credibility.
What to say in court for eviction
The judge will set the tone for the hearing and address each party as needed. Landlords will know when it is their turn to speak because the judge will ask questions and follow-up questions. Landlords should never interrupt the tenant or the judge when they are speaking, but instead should wait their turn. It’s also wise to use concise explanations, descriptions and statements when speaking.
Landlords can refer to their documents as often as they wish to back up what they are saying. The judge may ask to look at certain documents, or may interrupt either the tenant or the landlord during a discussion. This is normal and helps the judge get to the heart of the matter, especially if the landlord and tenant are going off on a tangent that is not related to the case. Landlords should always speak respectfully to the judge and use honorific titles as appropriate.
How to Act
No matter how many times a landlord goes to an eviction hearing, there has been a lot of emotion leading up to this point and it’s easy to let emotion take over in the courtroom. Landlords should always act in a professional and businesslike manner, keeping emotion out of it. Even if the tenant is making a scene and throwing out accusations, it’s best for landlords to remain calm and wait for their turn to speak. Avoid nervous tics and gestures like tapping, rubbing the face, shifting weight from side to side, licking lips, biting nails and so forth. No matter the outcome, landlords should remain calm and considerate of the legal process.
Be Prepared for Best Results
When a landlord has an eviction hearing, the best way to ensure a favorable outcome is to be prepared well in advance so that there is no question about what happened and that the judge will have no choice but to believe the landlord’s side of things. This means that good record-keeping, proper notification and a professional presence in court will most likely result in a judgment in the landlord’s favor.
In what ways do you prepare for an eviction court hearing? Please share this article and let us know your tips in the comments section below.
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