Landlords Representing Themselves in Eviction Small Claims Court

Updated 11/12/20

landlords representing themselves in eviction small claims court

The rental industry is filled with stories of legal disputes. Some are resolved peacefully and quietly; others not so much and head to eviction small claims court. As a landlord, you will inevitably have disagreements and conflicts with your tenants based on a variety of issues. Whether there are issues about rent or lease agreement violations, the issues must be resolved somehow.

Suing your tenant in small claims court is usually not the preferable method. In fact, I doubt any landlord prefers it, but it is often the last option a landlord has to recover owed rent and damages. This article was written to help you represent yourself in a small claims eviction case.

If you are trying to recover rent owed during the COVID-19 pandemic, please read “How to Collect Owed Rent During COVID-19”. There are a few changes to the Small Claims Act that change the way small claims cases are handled.

Eviction small claims court exists so that landlord-tenant issues can be resolved in a rather quick and inexpensive manner. If you decide to represent yourself in a small claims court case, there are a few important things to keep in mind.

Before Eviction Small Claims Court Hearing

Every county in California has a small claims court department. It’s imperative that you file your case in the correct courthouse otherwise you will waste valuable time and money. If you don’t know which court is the correct one to use, you can find it here.

Note: It’s important to understand that the law is complicated. You can contact us for a free consultation about your eviction small claims case before you file to ensure you don’t make any mistakes.

Once you decide the court you want to use, file your lawsuit and pay the associated fees. Prepare the presentation you will give once the judge calls on you and gather up any evidence you think will help.

Gathering evidence

Small claims court evidence can include copies of your rental agreement, repair receipts, letters, estimates, repair orders, accounting ledgers, pictures and things of that nature. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to pull out your cell phone and show the judge your pictures and videos. Print them out ahead of time with a date stamp if possible.

Small Claims Courtroom Etiquette

When your court hearing date arrives, you must remember to be on your best behaviour. Presenting yourself well will create a good impression on the judge. Make sure you have come well rested and well prepared for your hearing.

  • Arrive at least 15 minutes before your hearing. If you are late and the courthouse is on schedule, you may lose your case by default to the defendant. Don’t risk it!
  • Wear appropriate apparel. If you come to your hearing looking unprofessional, the judge may make assumptions based on how you’re dressed. Dress to impress!

Courtroom Procedure

Once the eviction small claims clerk calls your case, you should stand up and state that you are present in a clear and audible voice. Proceed to the judge while announcing that you are going towards the bench. Introduce yourself, and mention that you are the plaintiff in this case. Here are some very important key points to keep in mind during the entire hearing.

  • Address the judge by ‘Your Honor’; no exceptions!
  • Speak in a clear and audible voice.
  • Both sides state their case but the plaintiff is always given the first opportunity. Be prepared to present your case first.
  • Always address the judge directly; even if the tenant tries to address you directly in court.
  • Make sure you do not interrupt the tenant or defendants. Give everyone their time to speak. In case you are interrupted, remain quiet until the person who interrupted quiets down or the judge places order. Keep your cool! Every detail counts.
  • Give firm and accurate answers when the judge asks you questions. If you are not sure of the answer, let the judges know rather than making something up on the spot. The judges have a good sense of when people are making something up.
  • You should bring your evidence organized by topic so that you can quickly find the correct evidence to hand the judge. You should bring 3 copies of everything. One set for the judge, one for the defendant and one for yourself.

After the trial

In most cases, the judge will announce the verdict right after he or she’s heard both sides of the story and no additional time is required. If the judge has awarded you the judgement, thank the judge and the court for their time and calmly walk out. You shouldn’t celebrate! Do that at home.

If you are not satisfied with the judgment, you can file for an appeal within 30 days.

It’s always a good idea for landlords to talk to an eviction lawyer before representing themselves in eviction small claims court. It may seem like a walk in the park but these cases can get complicated.

If you do decide to represent yourself in small claims court, however, we hope this simple guide has helped you prepare your case for a favorable outcome.

At Fast Eviction Service, help on any of the issues discussed in this article is simply a click or phone call away. Email or call our office at (800) 686-8686 to discuss your questions for a free evaluation of your case.

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