Landlord-tenant court cases can result from a number of different issues. These issues also have a big effect on the potential outcomes. Whether you're looking at the case from the perspective of a landlord or a tenant, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the major case types.
A lease is a contract that specifies the length of tenancy and the amount of money paid for it. When the lease ends, tenants have the option to move to a new home, negotiate a new lease, or remain on a month-to-month basis. Though tenants can break their lease, they’re responsible for paying the full amount specified on the contract.
If a lease dispute goes to court, the cost can range from $100 (for an arbitrator) to $300 or more (for small claims court). Broken leases often result in tenants being held responsible for at least one month's rent, especially if the landlord isn't able to rent out the unit to a new tenant.
You have the right to collect the full amount owed in the lease agreement. However, most states will also hold you responsible for attempting to rent the unit to a new tenant (known as mitigating damages).
If you can’t rent the unit to a new tenant, you can sue the former tenant/s for the remainder of the lease and any related damages. This typically requires you to prove that you have made a reasonable attempt to find a new tenant.
If you owe a large amount of rent or have paid a substantial security deposit, you can take the landlord to court to resolve the situation. You’ll need to prove that the landlord did not make reasonable attempts to re-rent the unit.
When it comes to maintenance and repairs, both landlords and tenants are responsible for holding up their end of the agreement. Landlords must maintain habitable rental units, while tenants must pay rent and provide landlords with a reasonable amount of time to make requested repairs.
It’s often best for both parties to hire professional assistance to when negotiating repair disputes. Some issues can be resolved with mediation, but other cases will inevitably go to small claims court.
As a landlord, you must ensure that you follow state guidelines for completing maintenance and repairs. Typically, you must respond to repair requests immediately. If a dispute arises from a repair-related issue, it's often best to pursue mediation, which is typically a good way to find common ground and resolve issues with tenants.
Before escalating an issue to mediation or court, you have the option to make repairs yourself and then deduct the costs from your rent payments, terminate the lease altogether, or sue for damages. If mediation doesn't work, you can also take your landlord to small claims court. Court costs can add up, but landlords are typically responsible for paying them if they lose the case.
In many states, landlords can ask tenants to vacate a rental unit for a number of reasons. Proposed renovations or other arbitrary reasons represent termination without cause, and in these cases landlords must let tenants complete their leases before eviction. Rent non-payment, unauthorized residents, or even criminal activity are grounds for termination with cause, and these evictions must follow a series of clearly defined procedures.
Though it can be expensive, it's usually best for both landlords and tenants to hire attorneys to handle an eviction case. Attorneys typically charge between $200 and $500 per hour.
When a tenant doesn't vacate a rental unit during the period specified, you can write a summons and submit it to the local court. You win the case if the suit is deemed valid and the tenant doesn't answer the summons. After the ruling, you can contact law enforcement to complete the eviction, charging any related fees to the tenant.
If you respond to a summons, a hearing typically follows, and a trial can go from there if the judge deems it necessary. If you win the case, you can usually remain in your current rental unit, but if you lose, you must vacate according to the ruling. You may also be responsible for legal fees.