Landlord-tenant disputes can arise from a number of different legal issues, such as broken lease agreements, eviction actions, housing discrimination, and/or various problems with maintenance and repairs, to name a few. It is important to identify the issues that appear in your case. It is likely that these will form the basis of your lawsuit, which in turn, can dictate the potential outcomes of your case and the types of remedies you can recover.
Generally speaking, the more evidence that a party has to support the claim, the better their chances are of winning a lawsuit. While having strong evidence does not necessarily mean that a party is guaranteed to win, it does make it easier to demonstrate the elements of proof required for certain laws.
For instance, you should try to keep organized records of all correspondence and paperwork between you and your landlord or management company until your security deposit is returned.
Additionally, make sure you read and review your lease agreement. Oftentimes, the answers to such disputes appear in the lease. For example, a lease usually contains language regarding who is responsible for making repairs. If a tenant is suing their landlord for failing to fix an object and the lease states that it is actually the tenant’s responsibility to fix it, the tenant could have avoided the dispute altogether by simply checking their lease.
Lastly, you should consider how and where the dispute is being discussed. This will dictate how you approach the case, what your ultimate resolution looks like, and whether you will need to hire a lawyer to help with the case. For example, if no claims have been filed yet and you think you can work out the issue with your landlord on your own, then you should ask to schedule an appointment to talk to them first.
On the other hand, if your landlord is blatantly violating the law and behaving in a manner that requires court intervention, then you may want to search for a local landlord-tenant lawyer to represent you in court.
How Can I Prepare a Strong Landlord & Tenant Dispute Case?
As previously discussed, to prepare a strong landlord-tenant dispute case requires solid evidence, a viable claim, and basic knowledge of the legal issues and relevant laws involved in the dispute. If a party intends to represent themselves, they can find some of this information and other important legal materials by visiting the website of the court where the case is filed.
If the dispute involves a third party like a roommate, the parties should ask if the roommate or any other parties would be willing to serve as witnesses for the case.
Another idea that the parties should consider is participating in mediation or informal negotiation sessions. Even if the parties are not able to come to an agreement at the end of the negotiation process, they can still use it as evidence to show the court that they made a good faith effort to resolve it on their own first. Not only will this please the court, but it will also demonstrate that it is necessary to ask for guidance from the court.
Lastly, a strong landlord-tenant dispute case is able to address at least one of the parties needs. In other words, the party filing a lawsuit should be able to voice what they hope to get out of the lawsuit. They should also indicate what types of legal remedies they would like to recover to make up for the harm resulting from the dispute.
What Documentation Should I Gather Before I Meet with My Landlord & Tenant Lawyer?
It is important that a landlord or tenant gather all dispute-related documents prior to meeting with their lawyer. This may include items such as:
- The lease agreement;
- Physical or electronic correspondences;
- Photos and videos;
- Witness statements; and
- Any other items that help to support the claim.
The main reason for the dispute may also determine the kind of evidence that a person should be gathering and bringing with them to the meeting with their lawyer. For example, if the case is about a tenant failing to pay rent, they should print out copies of bank statements, receipts, record logs, and other financial statements that prove that they did in fact pay rent.
References from other landlords or tenants, and financial statements that show a consistent pattern of paying rent may be useful as well. Additionally, if the parties attended mediation or some other form of negotiations, they should bring any documents from those meetings as well.
Finally, be prepared with a list of questions for the meeting with the landlord-tenant lawyer. These can include things about the case itself, legal concepts in landlord-tenant laws that one does not fully understand, and most importantly, questions that will help the client to get to know the lawyer better. These help to ensure that they are the best lawyer to take the case and whether the client can afford their legal fees to see the case through to the end.
What Makes a Landlord & Tenant Dispute Case Strong? What Makes it Weak?
Landlord-tenant dispute cases are stronger when a party has significant evidence to prove their point, can satisfy the standards required by the applicable laws, and can construct a more persuasive argument than the opposing party in the case. Plaintiffs to these cases must also be able to show that if they prevail on the case, that the court will be able to issue a legal remedy that will redress their injuries caused by the dispute.
On the other hand, factors that could make a landlord-tenant dispute case weaker include:
- Having inconsequential evidence;
- Not being able to satisfy the legal standards required by the relevant laws;
- Having a faulty argument; and/or
- Not demonstrating the dispute caused an injury that the law could redress.
What are Some Dos and Don’ts for Landlord & Tenant Dispute Cases?
While it may not always be feasible, try having a discussion with the other party and talk it out rationally before filing a lawsuit in court. Sometimes, the parties may be able to settle the dispute on their own. This is especially true in cases where both parties remain levelheaded and realize there was a miscommunication or misunderstanding.
Refrain from making personal attacks against the other party and remember to genuinely listen when the other person is airing their grievances. Also, though no one should be making offensive remarks or being disrespectful, that does not mean to be a pushover instead. Maintain some balance by remembering to be professional, yet assertive.
Additionally, be kind and strive to practice empathy. Each person should attempt to calmly rephrase the problem from their point of view and ask the other person to take a second to think about it from that perspective.
Above all else, if the parties are able to reach an agreement on their own, do not forget to write it down on paper and sign it. Take a second to jot down several clear sentences that show both side’s intentions and the outcome that was decided upon.
On the other hand, if the dispute has already moved beyond the point of civil communications, then it may be time to get the court and lawyers involved to officially settle it once and for all.
When Do I Need a Lawyer for a Landlord & Tenant Dispute?
Although it is ultimately up to you to decide whether you want to hire a lawyer to help you resolve your landlord-tenant dispute or not, it is generally recommended that you retain counsel for complex legal matters or for issues that cannot be decided in a small claims court.
You should also strongly consider hiring a local landlord-tenant lawyer when the outcome of your case could potentially have life-altering effects (e.g., if losing the case means that you might end up homeless or bankrupt). In addition, if you are unsure of how to complete the necessary legal procedures or the law seems confusing, you should consult a local landlord-tenant lawyer at least for legal advice.
If you only have a few questions, then you may be able to work out an agreement wherein you can retain their services by the hour to ask them questions. In contrast, if the case becomes too complicated or you require representation in court, then you may want your lawyer to handle the entire case.