Preparing for court
You should bring everything you may need to prove your case to court. This may include:
- The lease (if there is one)
- Proof of rent payment or nonpayment
- Any other documents you think are important in proving your case
- Any witnesses that you would like the judge to hear
The court doesn’t appoint you a lawyer, and court staff can’t recommend a particular lawyer to you. A few courts offer free help from attorneys through the Lawyer for the Day program on certain days when summary process cases are heard. However, unless you have actually hired a personal lawyer, you should be prepared to argue your case on your own. In legal terms, this is called pro se or self-represented.
What to expect when you come to court
One of 3 things will happen when you come for your trial date:
- Bench trial
The case could be dismissed because the landlord didn’t follow the specific procedure required to start an eviction case. This is called a procedural error. For example, if the service date or entry date were too early or too late, the court may decide to dismiss the case.
The landlord, for a variety of reasons, can also decide to voluntarily dismiss the case.
In Housing Court, you’ll be offered an opportunity to mediate your case with an impartial Housing Court Specialist. If a solution is reached during mediation, the mediator will draft a settlement for everyone to sign. A settlement is an agreement by both parties (tenant and landlord) to do or not do certain things. For example, the settlement agreement may be a payment plan. If there are poor living conditions in the apartment, the settlement may require the landlord to fix these conditions by a certain date.
In courts that don’t have mediators, the landlord and tenant can negotiate directly.
If you can’t reach an agreement through mediation or negotiation, you have the right to have your case heard before a judge. It’s a good idea to try mediation or negotiation first, and if you don’t reach an agreement you think is reasonable, you can have your case heard before the judge the same day.
If you reach a settlement, you won’t go to trial that day. The judge or a clerk-magistrate may review and sign the settlement agreement. You’ll receive a copy of the signed agreement after the judge or the clerk-magistrate signs it.
If you don’t reach an agreement to settle the case and haven’t requested a jury trial, you will have a trial before a judge. Your case will likely be heard on the same day.
The trial will involve several steps and procedures. When your case is called, you will be told where to sit. Listen carefully and don’t interrupt the judge or the other side.
The landlord will be given an opportunity to present their case first. Later, the tenant will be given an opportunity to ask the landlord questions and present their side of the story. The landlord will also be able to ask questions.
After the judge hears your case, the judge typically takes the case “under advisement,” which means they will not decide right away but will think about it and write a decision. You will receive a written decision, sometimes as early as a few days to a week after trial, telling you the outcome. Read the judge’s decision and get help if there is anything that isn’t clear to you.
The judge’s decision will determine if you’re owed money or if you owe money. The decision also determines if the tenant has to leave the property. In legal terms, this means the landlord has won possession of the premises.
If you requested a jury trial and didn’t waive that right, a trial may not happen that day. If your trial doesn’t happen that day, you will get a notice from the court telling you when your trial will be.
|December 18, 2019