Curve Your Enthusiasm Goes Incognita—Lessons I Learned in Small Claims Court

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ImageI mentioned last week I went to small claims court and won a small victory over my old landlord.  I briefly want to share five lessons I learned from the experience as a renter.

  1.  Document, document, document.  Every bill, letter, receipt, phone conversation.  Make copies of everything in triplicate.  I was the only party who had copies of anything.  My landlord didn’t even bother to keep any receipts.  If you are seeking monetary compensation, you must have concrete evidence to back up your claims.  Phone conversations are hearsay and not taken into consideration for evidence.
  2. Know the law.  State statutes regarding landlord-tenant laws are available online.  Yes, the legalese can be difficult to read.  I work with lawyers so I don’t have too many problems.  If you don’t understand everything, don’t be afraid to get help.  But because I was able to cite specific state statutes, I was able to convey to my landlord (in letters and in the court documents I filed) that I knew exactly what my rights were and that I meant business!
  3. Consult a lawyer.  The municipal housing authority was NO HELP WHATSOEVER.  A Google search put in my contact with a competent, professional and helpful lawyer who dealt with real estate and rental law.  I consulted with him on the phone for over two hours, but he didn’t charge me a nickel.  Maybe I was really lucky, but when I explained my case in a clear, concise and professional manner, he was more than willing to lend me a hand.  I will forever be grateful to him for the invaluable advice he gave me.  But know most parties in small claims do not have lawyers with them; but their advice can make all the difference.
  4. Be the bigger person.  My landlord sent snarky letters saying because I was such a lousy cleaner, I should not give up my day job.  Because I kept my correspondence with him neutral, matter-of-fact and to-the-point, that gave me more credibility.  It showed I was willing to be reasonable without resorting to name-calling.  Did I want to be sarcastic and rude?  Of course!  But what good was that going to do me in my case?
  5. Most importantly—TAKE PICTURES!!!  Nothing speaks more to the condition of your apartment than pictures you have.  It shows wear and tear, before and after.  It proved I had eight windows and not nine.  It showed I was not a total slob and because my landlord had no photos, it gave me that much more credibility.  The judge said a picture is worth 1,000 words.  I was the only party who took pictures and this greatly helped my case.  The judge’s parting words to my landlord was, “What are pictures worth?”  My downtrodden landlord answered “A thousand words,” like a petulant schoolboy.  Heh heh heh…Seriously, though, I took over 200 pictures of my current apartment with my phone when I moved in.  I’ll be damned if I go through this again!

I hope this helps out a little bit.  Going to court is daunting and quite a challenge.  But if you have your ducks in a row and keep a cool head, you too can have success.  You don’t have to be the victim!  ¡Viva la huelga!

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