Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to court we go
So your tenant didn’t pay and you sent them a letter of demand stating they had three days to either pay or move. They did neither and you filed for a dispossessory. The sheriff served the papers and seven days later you get a call from magistrate saying your tenant answered and you have to show up for court Monday morning at 9:30. You thank the nice lady, hang up the phone and then think, “Oh crud! What do I do now?”
At least that’s what went through my mind the first time I went through this process.
I called my attorney, and after a brief conversation, he assured me I could handle it myself. I wasn’t so convinced.
So my next call was to my main teacher and mentor Bill Cook. He calmed me down and told me how to prepare and what to expect on court day. His advice worked, and I’d like to share it with you so if you find yourself going to court, you’ll be better prepared.
First, I want you to remember something. Even if you’re not in this situation right now, from day one with a tenant, you’re preparing to go to court. That means all correspondences are done via mail, email or texts. If there’s a phone call or an in-person meeting, make sure you keep a log of what’s said. We’ve only had to go to court twice, but having these “property logs” has helped both times.
As you’re preparing, understand that the judge won’t have time read your entire lease. You’ve already stated in the affidavit of dispossessory what your grievances are. Now your job is to show the judge, in a concise manner, what the tenant agreed to and how they’re not doing what they promised.
To do this, take your contract and use a yellow highlighter to show what parts of the contract the tenant has violated. Then use a red sharpie to categorize each violation in number of importance. For example: 1. They aren’t paying on time. 2. They’re not taking care of the property, etc… Remember, you need to keep it concise, so only use the most important points.
Preparing in this way will give you a smooth-flowing case while giving the judge an overview of the contract.
Next, make yourself an outline using your red numbers as bullet points. Print out all the emails and texts that show how you talked to the tenant about each point and how the tenant responded. Once again, this will build your case in a smooth and concise way.
Finally, make sure you make three copies of everything: one for you, one for the judge and one for the tenant.
On the day of court, if at all possible, let the tenant go first. They’ll probably be emotional and have very little to stand on. (Remember, they’re the ones not paying.) After they are through, lay out your case point by point to the judge and answer any questions he has for you. Mainly, stay calm and stick to your points.
(Speaking of judges, I appeared before our newly elected Chief Magistrate Judge Pat Rasbury. I have to say I was impressed with him. (And just so you know, I didn’t get the judgment I was seeking.) He was thorough and asked frank questions of both parties. He also took extra time to think over the case before giving a judgment – a great quality in a judge. I respected that and felt he was fair and balanced.)
Once you’ve made your case, it’s in the judges hands. But if you did everything right, you should have the property back in couple of weeks.
Joe and Ashley English buy houses and mobile homes in Northwest Georgia. For more information or to ask a question, go to www.cashflowwithjoe.com or call Joe at 678-986-6813.