If you’re a renter, your landlord has the duty to provide you with a safe, clean living space free of significant issues. On top of that, they should promptly rectify any problems during your rental period. Any time your landlord breaches their duty, you’re well within your right to file a complaint in small claims court. Wondering how to complete that process? Here’s what to do.
It can be frustrating when your landlord fails to provide appropriate accommodations.
Identify All Responsible Parties
To file your complaint in small claims court, identify all responsible parties. Go beyond the property owners to name all property managers associated with your rental.
In most cases, you can easily find that information on your lease documents. Just make sure you don’t leave anyone out. That omission could impact the results of your case in small claims court.
Collect Evidence to Back the Claims
For the strongest case, you need irrefutable evidence backing all your claims. The evidence you present depends on the situation at hand. It’ll usually consist of photos, videos, and written statements. In addition, witnesses can submit a written report or even accompany you to the hearing.
If an injury occurred due to neglect of the property, evidence. For example, medical bills, photos of the property issue, or witness statements. For issues with heat, water, and other problems impacting habitability, create a journal of the outages, repair requests, and any responses from the landlord.
Collect as much evidence as possible to document the problem. The judge will review everything when making their judgment. You don’t want to leave out any items that could strengthen your case.
Send Out a Formal Demand Letter to Your Landlord
You must send a formal demand letter to your landlord, giving them final notice to rectify the issue. The letter should clearly outline the problem and your attempts to fix it, plus indicate your willingness to sue if the issue continues.
Provide a reasonable response date as well before signing off on your letter. After that, make a copy of the letter for your records. Then, send the original letter to your landlord by certified mail and put the delivery receipt with your copy.
File Your Case in Small Claims Court
If your landlord does not respond or provide a mutually acceptable resolution, you can file your case in small claims court. You will need to go down to your local courthouse to file the paperwork with the court clerk.
The court will charge a small fee for filing. After you submit the paperwork and your payment, the clerk will provide the papers to serve your landlord. Unless you feel comfortable dropping it off, you can usually serve the paperwork by certified mail. Yet again, remember to keep your mail delivery receipt for your records.
Attend the Small Claims Court Hearing
Depending on your area, you’ll have a hearing scheduled 30 to 90 days after filing your paperwork. You will need to show up to the hearing with all your evidence ready for review by the judge. Organize your evidence chronologically, if possible, for easier review. Get to know all the items you’re presenting so you can explain how they support your claim.
Once you get in front of the judge, they will ask you to share your side of the story in full. They’ll look over the evidence briefly to connect which items support your claims during that process. The judge will also hear from your landlord and other named parties. They have the opportunity to refute your claims and submit evidence of their own.
Upon hearing from both parties, the judge will decide how to handle the case. If they have a lot of documents to review, they may call a brief recess for additional time to review the evidence. You will need to stick around the courtroom during that time. As soon as the judge returns, you’ll hear their judgment on the case.
If you win your case, the landlord will need to resolve the problem as indicated by the judge. So, it’s well worth taking your case to small claim court if you cannot get the issue resolved otherwise.