Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How To Sue Your Lanlord

Made homeless by Bangor fire (LOC)Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr
Being in the apartment rental business for almost 30 years I have seen it all. All types of people with all types of problems. Lately I have been seeing many tenants having trouble paying their rent. With the economy in a downturn people have lost their jobs or have reduced hours at work. On top of that utilities, fuel and expenses have gone through the roof. So the amount of evictions have risen. Normally we can work something out with the tenant and we both part freinds. But sometimes we must go to court, it's sad for both parties.

The eviction procedure is second nature after you do it as many times  as we have had to do over the years. But what if you have a disagreement with your landlord. You could have a pipe break or roof leak and your possessions may be damaged, the landlord is responsible, but won't make good. You try to settle with the landlord but to no avail. What  choice do you have, but to sue.

As a tenant you have rights just as much as the landlord. You may have to seek out a lawyer if the dollar amount or the severity of the problem is substantial.  But if it's not, you can take your own case to small claims court and persue it yourself.

Here are 7 steps to successfully settle your issue with your landlord:

1. Be polite and business like. Start your communication with a phone call or better yet go down to the rental office and meet face to face with the manager. State your problem and what the landlord should do about it. Also bring your lease and note where it says that the landlord is responsible for the problem. The face to face meeting usually helps in the settling of the problem because it's hard to say no to a human face and much easier to say no to letter or phone call.

2. Follow up with a letter. If your initial approach isn't successful follow up with a letter. State in the letter what the problem is and where in the lease it says it's the landlords responsibility. Note in the letter a contact point for you and give a number of days till you expect an answer. Of course send the letter certified mail. This letter will instill in your landlord that you are serious and you probably will pursue the matter further if not satisfied. Note: it's in the best interest of your landlord to keep you happy and paying rent.

3. Continue to pay your rent. You signed a lease to pay your rent. It's an obligation your responsible for. Don't try to hold your landlord to his responsibility when your not keeping yours. It also looks very negative to the judge, if you go to court, because your legal standing will diminish if you are also violating a contract.

4. Get some advice. If your not getting a response from your landlord contact a tenant association or housing mediator who can step in before things escalate to a court case. These are usually free services.

5. Try small claims court first. If you have to go to court and and the dollar amount is under $5000 small claims court is your first legal option. Usually lawyers are not allowed their so you will be able to do this yourself and not have to pay a lawyer. The lawyers fee may be higher than the amount of the disputed claim.

6. Make sure your organized. Get your paper work organized and be prepared bring your lease, photos and proper documents to show the judge your side of the problem. Tell the judge the exact laws the landlord violated. With only a few minutes to speak it's better to state the laws violated and then the deceit second. Make sure you have all your evidence to prove your case.

Going to court can be a major endeavor if you have never done it before. But if your fighting for a return of security deposit or some damage to your property the effort can pay off.


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