My landlord filed a suit against me

  • Service.  Your landlord must “serve” you with the lawsuit.  Service occurs when someone hands the lawsuit to you or someone in your home over the age of 15 or when the lawsuit is “posted” in a visible place on your home.  If you want to defend the suit, call an attorney right away, as these cases move pretty fast.  Low-wage workers can call our office for a free consultation.
  • No judgment for past-due rent if lawsuit posted outside home. If the landlord posted the suit outside your home, then the landlord will not be able to get a judgment for past due rent if you do not appear in court (but the landlord can get a judgment to evict you).  If you want to be sure there won’t be a judgment for past-due rent, call an attorney. They can look at the “return of service” in the court records.  Low-wage workers can call our office for assistance. 
  • Failure to appear in court. If you or your attorney do not appear in court, the landlord will automatically win the case.  This is called a “default judgment.” You should know that a judgment against you will be in the public record. This will make it more difficult for you to rent in the future. Even if you have no defense, you may be able to negotiate an agreement that would prevent a judgment.
  • Read the lawsuit. Reading the lawsuit will tell you what the landlord is accusing you of, what type of suit it is, and how much money the landlord is demanding.  If you disagree with what the lawsuit says, call an attorney right away.  This is especially important if the landlord is seeking an “expedited eviction” and is accusing you or others of engaging in drug activity, serious property damage, or being a threat to others.
  • Rent and Possession. The most common type of suits landlords file are called “rent and possession.”  Through this type of suit, a landlord can seek a judgment from the court evicting you and requiring you to pay past-due rent and late fees (but not property damages).
  • Responding to Rent and Possession Suit.
    • Catch up on the rent. If you pay all of the rent due on or before your court date, the case will be dismissed and you will not be evicted (to be safe, appear in court and pay the past due rent to the court with a money order).
    • Present evidence of inaccuracy.  If the landlord has charged you for fees that are not provided for in the lease or if the amount sought is wrong, you can present evidence of that to the judge.  We suggest you call an attorney for a consultation beforehand.  Low wage workers may call us for a free consultation.
    • Counterclaim for landlord abuses.  If, during the time you rented the home, you believe the landlord violated your rights, such as failing to maintain safe, sanitary and livable housing or cutting off your utilities, you may have grounds for a counterclaim.  Call an attorney right away for guidance.
  •  Unlawful detainer.  Sometimes landlords will file “unlawful detainer” suits.  A landlord can file this type of suit when the tenant has stayed in the home past the time permitted.  This can occur when the landlord ends your month-to-month tenancy, chooses not to renew your lease, or accuses you of violating the lease.  The landlord can seek your eviction, rent, and damages.   To succeed, the landlord must send you a letter demanding you leave (for breaching the lease, the landlord must give ten days notice and for ending the tenancy, the landlord must give you notice at least 30 days before rent is due).  If the landlord did not follow this procedure, the landlord loses.  If a landlord wins, a court can order you to pay double rent for the time you stayed over plus damages.
  • Responding to unlawful detainer suit.  
    • No counterclaims.  You cannot file counterclaims in unlawful detainer cases.  But if you believe you have claims against your landlord, you may want to call an attorney and consider filing them independently.
    • Inaccuracies.  You can challenge the amount of money being sought if you believe it is inaccurate.  You can also try to prove that the landlord failed to provide 30 days’ written notice.  
    • No breach. If the landlord is attempting to evict you for breaching the lease, you can try to prove you complied with the lease.

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