Evicting Your First Tenant: What Does A Day in Court Look Like?

ProTip: Bring Every Record You Have of Every Encounter You Had.
If you’re a first-time landlord or you’ve just been lucky enough to not have evicted a tenant yet, you may be rather dreading the moment when some tenant has the testicular fortitude to bring you to court over an eviction. That’s because it’s new and intimidating, but in reality, as long as you have your stuff together, evicting a tenant is not actually difficult. The hard part is making sure your stuff is actually together.

Now, you can be assured that it’ll be at least 30 days from when you serve the eviction notice to the court date — and you’ll not be receiving the rent for that 30 days, pretty much regardless of whether you win or lose. So serve your pay-or-quit notice the day the rent becomes late, every time. Once you actually get to your court date, this is what you can expect:

Calling of the Parties Involved (Plaintiff & Defendant)
The judge will give the names of the Plaintiff and the Defendant for a case. If it’s your name, alert the courtroom that you’re present promptly; if the other party isn’t there, you can often get a default judgment in your favor on the spot.

First Attempt to Settle (Arbitration)
You, your lawyer, the defendant, and the defendant’s lawyer (if any) will often be required to meet briefly for a last-ditch attempt to settle before the case formally starts. Most cases are actually resolved right here, because when you get right down to it, few people actually want to go to court. If your case does get settled right then and there, the lawyers will announce the result to the judge. The result will be recorded, and everyone will go on their merry way.

Here Comes the Judge
If you’ve done this before, and you’ve had the chance to talk to your attorney about what they did and why, you could potentially represent yourself — but it’s a really, really bad idea to try to do so the first time you go to court. There are just far too many minor details that will tank your case if you fail. For example, if you fail to specify an amount that you’re seeking, you can win your case and still walk away empty-handed. So hire a lawyer for your first eviction — and quite possibly your first several.

Either way, you’re going to need the following documentation:

[]Papers — rental application, lease agreement, invoices, letters and notes exchanged…everything.
[]Recordings of phone calls
]Text messages
[]Witnesses to any verbal exchanges that took place
]Seriously, we mean everything.

You can expect to have to explain your lease agreement to the judge as though he were a 5th grader, but be patient and kind. You can also expect to have your tenant make up all kinds of bizarre accusations against you — but if they don’t have proof, they only thing they’re going to do is damage their own credibility.

One thing to keep in mind though is most judges will consider you a business person that should know the laws & rules of managing rental properties and won’t be nice to you if you claim ignorance. Tenants on the other hand, will usually get the benefit of the doubt and the judge will often patiently explain things to them.

Judgement is Rendered
In most cases, the judge will issue a judgment after hearing all of the evidence. Occasionally, if there’s a question of law or the evidence is particularly difficult, the judge will ask you to go home and make their decision later. Sometimes a judge will reschedule the hearing to give a tenant (but rarely a landlord) time to get their paperwork in order to present. That’s a pretty rare occurrence in an eviction hearing, however.

If you’ve never watched Judge Judy or other court TV shows, take some time to watch one as there are a lot of similarities in what to expect when you go to court.

How the eviction process works depends entirely on the laws in your own area. My court experience is quite a bit different from what’s posted here. In MS, I can post a 72 hour pay or quit notice for late rent. After the 72 hours, I go to the court house to file. I’m generally in court the next week. If the tenant can’t prove they paid the rent, the judge gives them seven days to vacate. No lawyer needed. No arbitration or anything like that.

You can look up the landlord / tenant laws for your state. You can also call the clerk at the court house to ask about the process so you do it right the first time. Follow the legal process for your state. Take a copy of the signed lease and your rent rolls into court. Also take any other documentation like pictures of damage, written correspondence, etc.