Anatomy of a landlord lawsuit against a tenant Part IV

Dec 27 2012

If you have not had the opportunity to read the previous blog entries of my ongoing lawsuits, please read the first here.

As mentioned in the previous articles, I had three opportunities to sue past renters for damages and lost rent.  I chose to pursue two of them but not a third as I learned she was on the verge of being evicted from her current residents but she will get her turn soon.

I went on to file lawsuits against two separate tenants in our local small claims court.  One of the defendants contacted me prior to the court date and we settled.  This left the other defendant, who we will call "VIC."  A recap of "VIC" is she came into the home in May 2012 along with a friend.  80% of the deposit was paid along with partial rent.  Vic and her roommate(s) had a schism and they voluntarily gave up the property when the rent stopped coming.  Investigating the home after they left, I found massive damages thus the lawsuit for damages and lost rent.

After the summons was delivered, someone related to "Vic" mailed me a letter demanding a copy of the lease for Vic's attorney.  I didn't know who the person was and did not respond to that person, doubting at all there was any attorney involved.

On my court date of the 19th, I arrived early with all of my materials regarding Vic's case.  It's important to bring everything related to the defendant and the case with you even if you think it doesn't matter.  Your materials should include:

  •  The lease
  •  Receipts
  •  Letters
  •  Photos
  •  Walk-thru sign-off
  •  Serial #s of appliances
Arriving at the court, it was standing room only as the court was doubling up on its cases due to the Christmas week.  Entering the court room, I did not see Vic or anyone who may have been with her.  I expected her to show given the letter I was sent but at least at this point she was not there.

After listening to the myriad business versus individual cases get called, I was finally called regarding my two cases.  Standing before the judge, she asked if the defendant were present and I told her to my best guess, no, she was not present.  The judge looked over my claim, the amount I was asking for, and issued a summary judgment for my amount, noting that the summons was properly served and received.  This last part is important as I was listening to the judge's other cases.

It's very important that your summons be properly served.  Usually the courts will handle that matter.  However, if they cannot properly serve the summons, it may fall upon you to serve it.  I do believe this is what I heard the judge mention in another case, advising the plaintiff to hire a process server before she could move forward with her case.  The lesson here is always make certain the summons is being sent properly!  

Stamping the paperwork, the judge mentioned I had to wait 10 days before pursuing the claim and if I had any information on her including her SSN.  I told the judge I did have the SSN and would soon have more information.  

I also asked the judge for a stamped copy of my other case showing it was dismissed so I could send to the defendant along with a receipt for his payment.

I made copies of the judgment for the other defendant and sent one to where the summons was sent and received.  It sent the other to the address of the person who sent me a letter demanding a copy of the lease.  Next week I will begin the process of tracking down Vic's location and her current employer.

Lessons learned with this are:
  •  Always, ALWAYS, collect vital information with your tenants including verifiable SSN, date-of-birth, driver's license, etc.
  •  Your rental application should include information on relatives
  •  Document everything
  •  Keep your receipts
If your renter situation turns pear shaped, this information will help you during your lawsuit.

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