Preparing for court
What should I bring to court?
You should bring everything you may need to prove your case. This will likely include:
- the lease (if there is one);
- proof of rent payment or nonpayment; and
- any other documents you think are important in proving your case.
- You should also bring any witnesses that you would like the judge to hear.
Are lawyers available to represent me in court?
The court does not appoint you a lawyer. In addition, court staff cannot recommend to you a particular lawyer. A few courts offer free assistance 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 three things will happen when you come for your trial date:
- Bench trial
The case could be dismissed because the landlord did not 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, may also decide to voluntarily dismiss the case.
- In Housing Court, you will be offered an opportunity to mediate your case with a Housing Court Specialist, who is impartial.
- 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. Or 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 do not have mediators, the landlord and tenant can negotiate directly.
- If you cannot reach an agreement through mediation or negotiation, you have the right to have your case heard before a judge. It is a good idea to try mediation or negotiation first, and if you do not 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 will not go to trial that day. The judge or a clerk-magistrate may review and sign the settlement agreement. You will receive a copy of the signed agreement after the judge or the clerk-magistrate signs it.
- If you do not reach an agreement to settle the case and have not 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 do not interrupt the judge or the other side.
- The landlord will be given an opportunity to present his or her case first.
- Later, the tenant will be given an opportunity to ask the landlord questions and present his or her side of the story. The landlord will also be able to ask you questions.
- After the judge hears your case, the judge typically takes the case “under advisement,” which means he or she 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 seek help understanding anything that is not clear to you.
- The judge’s decision will determine if you are 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 did not waive that right, a trial may not happen that day. If your trial does not happen that day, you will get a notice from the court telling you when your trial will be.
|Last updated:||April 25, 2018|