I'm quite sure I've been in eviction court more than the average landlord/investor. The main reason is probably because I do not reward bad behavior with financial payouts. In other words, I don't do cash for keys. You pay, you stay. You don't, you go see the judge.
So, here is my strategy to win in court, every time, in a so-called tenant friendly state;
1. Be prepared and organized. Don't go into court with a folder of organized chaos. I put together all the documents I need, and think I might need, a few days before. I label each one Exhibit A, B, C, etc. Then I write out a short script and incorporate how I might use these documents when speaking to the judge. In the script, I might have something like, "Market rent for a 3 bedroom house similar to the one the defendant is occupying is $2,300." Next to that I type Exhibit B. Now, when I go to the judge, I have my script and I can quickly reference the correct paperwork I need for evidence.
2. Practice what you might say. I will read through my script several times. I don't know what the judge might ask me, but if he asks me a question that I imagine he might, such as "Have you had any contact with the plaintiff?" I have prepared an answer for him and it helps me to respond quickly and clearly.
4. Stick to the facts. The judge might ask, "What is the problem?" He doesn't want to hear how you have been having problems, the tenant told you to go to hell, he turned off the sprinklers and let the grass die, his dog barks all night, etc. He wants to know exactly why you are in court. "The tenant was supposed to pay me rent on the 1st and has not." You don't need to say any more. Let the tenant screw the case up for himself by talking too much.
5. NEVER talk to the defendant - NEVER. The defendant will most likely start addressing you personally. He may even try to talk over you. Just let him run his mouth. The judge will tell him to shut it. When it's the tenant's turn to talk, just ignore all the lies spewing out of his pie hole like a hate volcano. The judge has heard it all before. If there is something that concerns him, he'll ask you about it. Stay calm and remember #4.
6. Let em rant. Trust me, it's good for your case. Court cases run on tight schedules. There are lots of other people the judge needs to listen to and the last thing he wants to do is waste a bunch of time listening to a disgruntled tenant tell his entire sob story. The more the tenant rants, wastes time and talks about a whole lot of non-factual and/or irrelevant things, the better your case.
6. Dress appropriately. I don't wear a dress shirt and khaki pants to court. I don't want to come off as too slick. I wear nice jeans, black dress shoes, a single colored polo shirt (mine is olive green with my company name in small white letters over my left chest) tucked in and a black bet. When I stand in front of the judge, I stand with my hands clasped in front of me or behind me as a sailor might do when at ease. Don't put your hands in your pockets. The bailiff won't like that. Don't cross your arms. You'll come off as angry. Also, leave the Rolex watch, diamond earrings and 24K gold chain at home. You won't need any of those in court. Just stand at ease and keep your eyes on the judge.
7. Be polite and respectful. Address the judge as "Your Honor" and use lots of "Yes, sir" or "No, Ma'am"s. Your tenant might be a total scumbag, but calling him one won't win you any points with the judge. If the judge asks you a question you don't understand, just politely ask the judge to "Please repeat the question."
8. Hire a professional. I never go to court without a lawyer. I do my own postings, but I let the lawyer take over after the posting has expired. Most of the time, I never end up in court. If the tenant doesn't file an answer, I get a default judgement and life goes on. If the tenant does and the answer is nonsense, I go for the MSJ or motion summary judgement. This is an expedited process where my lawyer asks for a judgement because the tenant's answer is irrelevant to the facts of the case. These don't always work out and if they don't, I will have to go to the court and testify.
- I'm just a landlord. I'm not giving out legal advice. I'm not a lawyer, although I sometimes play one
while driving because all other drivers on the road are guilty of being
idiots who should not be behind the wheel and I'm great at arguing those cases.