We had been landlords for years before we had to appear in court for the first time this fall. After losing, and being sued for another $10,000, we went to court again. In addition to these two cases on the East Coast, we experienced one more in California. These are the lessons we learned – the hard way – so that you can learn from our mistakes when you have your day in court!
1) Everything in writing – In court, the judge may want to see your documentation. This can then be entered into evidence. Having paper copies of your pertinent documents also helps you stay organized and helps to back up your claims.
2) Hire a lawyer – We have decided that we will not go to court without a lawyer again. The one time we did not hire a lawyer we had our worst court outcome. We feel the lawyer has been a big determinant in how the case has proceeded.
3) Show up in person – While we have waited for our case to be called, we have been able to observe other court cases. We have noticed that being present in court, in person, seems to make a big difference in the outcome of the case. This has held true for us as well. As expensive and stressful as it is to show up to court in person, I plan to make being in court my top priority.
4) No children allowed – Trust me; don’t bring your baby to the courtroom. After having to bounce our unhappy (and often screaming) baby for eight hours outside of the courtroom, I can say I will never do that again! It is better to leave them home with a sitter. Be prepared to be away from baby for a long time, as the court docket sometimes moves slowly or changes, and you may be there for an extended period.
5) Professional clothes – You will see people in all types of clothing in the courtroom. Put your best foot forward to show that you are professional and that you take the case seriously.
6) Get there early – It is always important to arrive at court early. You may have to contend with parking hassles and security screenings before you even enter the building. Also, you never know how the docket will be ordered, and when you will actually get to appear.
7) Check if phones are allowed – Some courthouses will allow you to leave your phone off, others will not allow you to bring it into the courthouse at all. You don’t want to arrive at the courtroom with nowhere to store your phone for the day.
8) Be prepared to fund your attorney fee yourself – Just because your contract says you are allowed attorney fees doesn’t mean the judge will reimburse them back in the exact amount. Bear in mind that you might not be reimbursed for what you spend.
9) The legal process can move slowly – The second time we were sued, the trial did not happen until almost five months later. By the time we went back to court, it was actually ten months after we had sold the property!
10) It is expensive – Taking someone to court can be very expensive. Not only do you have filing fees, you also have court costs, lawyer fees, and their administrative bills. In our experience, the person we were suing was difficult to deal with, and made the process more expensive than we had anticipated. The costs increased rapidly as we had to take extra steps to get them to cooperate.
As always, the views presented here are my personal opinions, and should not be used as legal advice. I hope that as I learned a few things the hard way I can save you some trouble! Please sign up for this month’s webinar where I will discuss this topic further.