as i mentioned in this post, the house we are living in now isn’t one we picked by choice. this is something that is difficult to deal with emotionally, considering the people that used to live here.
once they were kicked out of this house by the city, i thought i would never have to deal with them again. 10 months later, as we were packing up our house to move and 3 weeks before our wedding, there was a knock at the door around 9pm. had i been home alone, i would have ignored it, but jared answered the door and just like that, we were served.
the summons said that we were being sued by the previous tenants in small claims court for $7500. which, not coincidentally i’m sure, is the maximum amount that you can sue for in small claims court. this meant that if i counter sued for even $1, the case would get kicked into district court and lawyers would probably need to be involved. they were suing me for 2 things.
*they did not receive their deposit back
*they were forced to move and lost all of their belongings due to a mold problem
right away, i knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on because:
*they never paid me a deposit
*they were forced to move by the city – the mold problem was remediated.
the court date was scheduled for a day that we were on our honeymoon. i kicked into high gear and got the court date changed and scheduled a meeting with an attorney. he mentioned to us that we were going through 3 of the 5 major stressors that can happen to people, all at once. getting married, selling a house/moving, and getting sued. great.
he gave me some good advice, but also left me with this statement.
if you plan to be a landlord for awhile, this won’t be the first time you’re sued.
like the nerd i am, i spent weeks googling what to expect in court and what to do and not to do. i gathered all documents and pictures i could find, made copies, and organized them in a binder. i prepared my opening speech and practiced it in front of jared. jared actually made fun of me, but i told him that we shouldn’t underestimate these people. he was convinced that they would be completely unprepared, but i had a suspicion that this wasn’t the first time they were involved in a lawsuit.
they day of the court date, we arrived 30 minutes early, prepared and dressed nicely. 30 minutes passed and the plaintiff still wasn’t there. we held our breath, thinking maybe they wouldn’t show up. the court told us that they would give them an extra 15 minutes. we were livid. if you can’t show up on time to court, you shouldn’t get extra time. sure enough, 10 minutes later, we see the door open, followed by a baby carrier and the plaintiff*.
before we could go in front of the judge, we were required to go through mediation. we met with mediators who told us that there was a $100 fee for the mediation. the plaintiff refused to pay it. the mediators tried to negotiate with her for about 20 minutes before they finally gave up and waived the fee.
after going over the details of the case, jared and i were a little worried about three things.
*even though she didn’t pay a deposit to me, she paid one to the previous landlord that never transferred to me. i didn’t know if that was my responsibility to have it transferred or not. if it was, i may be liable for 3x the deposit amount because even though they did not deserve to receive their deposit back, there was no letter sent to them itimizing the damages.
*we didn’t know how the judge would react to the mold situation. even though i thought i did everything the right way (working with the insurance and a contractor to take care of the problem asap), maybe i was wrong?
*we didn’t know if the judge will feel sorry for the plaintiff since she is clearly poor, has a lot of kids, and is not educated. versus us, who appear to be the opposite. i had never been in court before, so i didn’t know if there was ever a bias in these type of situations.
things got pretty heated in the mediation and the mediators, even though they aren’t allowed to give us legal advice, were strongly encouraging us to settle because of the mold issue. jared and i decided to offer them $1600, which was the amount of the deposit. they didn’t accept it and wanted us to pay them $4500. we countered with $2000. they declined and we went in front of the judge.
the judge asked if we had any witnesses and the plaintiff named her daughter. i wasn’t going to have a witness, but i decided to name jared. what i didn’t know is that they would send the witnesses out of the room during most of the trial. so there i am, alone, scared and nervous at the defendant platform. we start the trial and i have to listen to the plaintiffs sob story for a good 45 minutes while i am not allowed to say anything. finally it’s my turn to talk. i say my part about not being paid a deposit and show the judge the signed lease i had with “0” clearly written in the deposit line. the judge asks the plaintiff why she’s not suing the previous landlord instead and immediately clears me of that charge.
right then i think, oh wow. maybe this WILL be cut and dry like it should be. i relaxed a bit and we got onto the mold issue. of course, i had all the documentation about how it was being remediated and the plaintiff had the option to move but they didn’t want to. i also had the piece of evidence that i’m pretty sure the plaintiff wouldn’t want me to show. i had the actual eviction notice from the city that said they were living in squalor and went into details about how they were feeding their dogs from the trash and there was a dead animal on the front porch, etc.
there were a few more details and we went back and forth and then the witnesses were called in and we went back and forth some more. finally the judge said that i had acted appropriately and done everything i could and none of it was my fault. she dismissed the case.
that was one of the biggest rushes of my life.
it restored my faith in the judicial system.
and i was thrilled that our greedy tenant could have had $2000, but ended up with NOTHING. i would have liked to have sued them for the money it cost me to deal with this ($50 to the courts, $250 to the attorney, $12 for parking!), but there’s no way i would have seen a dime from them even if i won the case. not worth it.
it also made me hyper aware of the risks of being a landlord. i am way more diligent about doing everything by the book, getting everything in writing, and covering all of my bases.
because i really don’t want to have to go through that again. it was one of the most stressful times in my life. i couldn’t even FULLY enjoy my honeymoon because the court date was looming over my head for when i returned.
i have faith that karma will catch up to these people. they’ve worked the system and other people for way too long. quite honesty, their lifestyle is probably punishment enough.
*there was not a time that i had ever NOT seen this lady pregnant. before they were kicked out, they had a baby and we didn’t even know she was pregnant until after the baby was born. sure enough, she was pregnant again, bringing the grand total to 10 children and another one on the way. this is revolting to me on so many levels.