Lessons From Eviction Court: Bring Your Paperwork and Your Witnesses

Posted by Stephen Marshall on

The theme of Lessons From Eviction Court is typically the same: pay attention to details. Landlords really don’t have to prove very much in order to win evictions involving non-payment of rent. In most cases, you only have to prove that:

  1. The tenant is in possession of the rental unit
  2. The tenant has failed to pay rent that was due
  3. The tenant was given proper notice that he or she would be evicted if rent was not paid in full within a certain time frame; and
  4. The tenant failed to tender the full payment within the proper time frame

However, the type and amount of evidence that you need to prove these four things often varies from case to case. If you tenant doesn’t appear in court to challenge the eviction, the testimony of someone with personal knowledge will typically be sufficient. “Personal knowledge” means that the witnesses saw or heard the act about which he or she is testifying, rather than having heard about it from someone else.

One area where landlords go wrong is by failing to have a witnesses in court who has personal knowledge of the four areas listed above. For example, if the assistant manager actually delivered the non-payment notices, but only the leasing agent is present in court, the landlord cannot prove that the notice was delivered, as there is no one with personal knowledge present to testify when and how it was done.

If your tenant appears in court and challenges the eviction, you will likely need to have additional paperwork in court with you to prove your case. Of course, my advice is to bring the entire tenant file to court for each eviction. If you can’t bring the entire file, you should always bring the following documents:

  1. The lease (to prove the amount of rent owed each month)
  2. The notice of non-payment (to prove the amount that was due at the time and the date that the tenant was notified that payment must be made or he would face eviction)
  3. Any correspondence between the parties (to rebut any claims by the tenant about oral agreements); and
  4. A payment ledger showing all charges and payments (to rebut claims that payment had already been made)

There is no doubt that bringing tenant files to court each time can be a hassle, especially if you have multiple evictions on the same date. However, in the rental game, time is money, and the sooner you can remove a non-paying tenant and move in a paying tenant, the more profitable your business will be. So, to win your evictions, remember two things: (1) bring your witnesses and (2) bring your documents. You may not need them every time, but when you need them, you’ll be glad you had them.

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