Property management Tip: Small Claims Court as a Tool for Owners

Too few landlords use small claims court to collect rent or damages owed by tenants. Small claims court is perfectly useful way to collect on past due rent or damages caused by renters or generally any money dispute between landlord and tenant.

Tenant Landlord Disputes
Here is where good documentation really pays off.

  • Provide a good contract or lease to prove your complaint is valid and was contractually agreed upon
  • Bring any written communications such as letter or emails to document your case. Many property management companies never delete any tenant or contractor emails.
  • Digital photos provide excellent documentation and can help a judge visualize the problem.
  • A move out inspection will document any damages to the unit before and after the tenant has moved and digital photos of any damages that was not there at the move in inspection.

How Does it Work?

  • No Attorney: A good solution for small dollar disputes.
  • Good Documentation: Bring all documentation and supporting evidence such as copies of Lease's and addendum's/emails/correspondence/photo's/receipts.
  • Make Your Case: Make your case before a judge and do your homework. Spend time on the sequence of events and put your documents in that order. Relax and explain to the judge why you feel you are right.
  • The Judgment: Once a decision has been made by the court there is generally an appeal period. If no appeal is made by the other party and the allotted appeal time has passed you can now try to collect the judgment from the tenant.
  • Getting Paid: Once a judgment has been made in your favor, send a copy of the judgment to the tenant. You may require payment if full or you may allow an installment schedule. If the tenant does not pay as agreed then you must record the judgment
  • Record It: This is a procedure which places the judgment in the public record and will vary from state to state. Record the judgment for all to see. It's not to be spiteful, but the severity of having an outstanding lien against the tenant and documentation with credit reporting agencies is the leverage that will get you your money.
  • Debt Collection: Often operates by offering to collect for a percentage of the debt owed. Generally, there is no fee if the debt is non-collectible.
Talk to a Small Claims Legal Advisor
Small Claims Division
Civic Center Courthouse
400 McAllister Street, Room 103
San Francisco, CA 94102-4514

Walk-in office hours for the legal advisor are:
8:30 am -12:00 pm & 1:30 pm - 4:00 pm (Monday through Thursday)
8:30 am - 12:00 pm (Friday)
or call direct at (415) 292-2124 Monday-Friday (except legal holidays) from 8 am until 12 Noon and 1 pm until 4:00 pm.

There are many times a lawyer will give you a considerable advantage. Its a good idea to consult with your attorney to see if you have all you need to represent yourself.
* A version of this article was published by this author for the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute.

Thanks for Reading
Howard for

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