How to know when it is worth going to court
Your lease is the legal contract governing the landlord-tenant relationship. Over the course of that relationship, it is unfortunately not uncommon for the tenant’s actions to fall outside of the rules set out in the lease. Some infractions may be minor, such as a failure to bring the trash can up to the building after trash day. Unfortunately, sometimes the offense is major, such as failing to pay rent or damaging your property. While it is very easy to say, “I will see you in court,” the question is whether you really want to commit to taking legal action against your tenant.
What are the pitfalls of going to court?
- Court is very expensive – Lawyers fees alone can add up quickly. We have paid between $150 and $250 per hour, but rates can go as high as $500 an hour. We have also had a lawyer on retainer, at a cost of $5,000. For our previous cases we have spent as little as $1,100 and as much as $15,000 just in lawyer’s fees. Then consider that there will be court filing fees, as well costs to physically appear in court.
- The judge’s ruling is never guaranteed – Don’t discount the human element of every court case, even when you feel that you have a solid case to make. Tenants may also take the opportunity to countersue you, depending upon the proceeding and state laws.
- The court process takes time – When we have been to court in the past it has taken at least two months to get a resolution. Once it nearly took half a year!
These reasons demonstrate why it is important to make sure the investment of time and resources is really worth it before pursuing a legal solution. In my travels I have seen fellow landlords recommend taking their tenants to court over issues that seem too small to be worth it. Many times, going to court is not the best answer. Even though we thought we were in the right each and every time we appeared in court, we only won one of our cases outright. The aggravation may not be worth the outcome, especially knowing that the ruling may not go in your favor.