I'm Locked Out!
A landlord cannot lock you out of your rental unit unless the landlord has gone to court and won an eviction judgment. Call the Police and explain that you are a tenant who has been locked out by your landlord.
I Got A Notice From My Landlord
Show the notice to a lawyer as soon as possible, or bring it to a legal aid office and apply for help. You can also learn about the law and decide whether you think the notice is valid.
I Have A Court Appearance
If you have a court appearance very soon, it may be too late for you to get legal help. Try to get a lawyer, but if you can't, this information will help you represent yourself.
If you get a written eviction notice and then do not move out in the time allowed by the notice, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. The lawsuit papers are delivered to you, and they say when and where the first appearance is. If you don't show up, you will lose automatically, and you will be ordered to move out and pay the landlord's court costs. However, in this case, you will not owe any attorney fees to the landlord.
If you are willing to move, but need more time, you can show up at the first appearance and ask for more time. The judge does not have to allow it, but if the landlord agrees, you will get it. A landlord is more likely to agree if you are specific about the time needed, and if it is no more than a few days or a week. The best strategy is to discuss this with the landlord before court.
If you think you have a legal defense (a legal reason why you should not be evicted), you can show up at the first appearance and ask for a trial (second appearance). You can find out which courtroom your case is in by asking at the information desk.
When your case is called, stand up. If you want a trial, you will need to tell the judge that you have a defense to the eviction, and you may have to give a brief description of the defense.
You will fill out a form called an Answer. It is where you describe your defense, and give a copy to the court and the landlord. You will be asked to pay a filing fee, but you can request a deferral or waiver of this fee.
When you return for the trial (second appearance), you will be asked to pay a trial fee, but again, you can request a deferral or waiver of this fee. If you are on public benefits, or if you can show that your income is very low, the fees will probably be deferred or waived.
When deciding whether to fight an eviction, you must consider carefully whether you have a defense. For example, it is NOT a legal defense that you lost your job, or have small children, or are disabled.
Here are some examples of things that are legal defenses:
You might also have claims against the landlord for money damages. These are called "counterclaims." You can use any counterclaims that arise from the rental agreement, the landlord-tenant law, or some other law.
There are many possible counterclaims in any eviction. Here are some examples:
When you return for the second appearance, dress neatly, be early, and have your evidence and witnesses ready.
When the trial starts, the landlord gets to go first because the landlord filed the lawsuit. Don't get mad, don't make faces, and don't argue with the landlord (or the judge).
When the landlord or a landlord's witness is finished talking, you have the right to ask them questions. This is called "cross-examination." Be polite, don't argue, and keep your questions short. If you think they are not telling the truth, there is not much you can do about it right then. You will get your chance to tell your side of it later.
When the landlord and the landlord's witnesses are all finished, it's your turn. You get to tell your side and each of your witnesses gets to give their testimony. The landlord can ask questions, and the judge might also ask questions.
When your witnesses testify, have them say their name and address and whether they are a neighbor, friend, or relative. Then ask them to describe what they saw and what they know about your defense or counterclaims. For example, if you claim bad housing conditions, they could describe how bad they are and how long they have been a problem (broken windows, leaky pipes, toilet overflow, etc.). If they leave anything out, it is OK to specifically ask them about it.
When you are all done, the judge will either decide who wins. If the judge decides for the landlord, you will probably be ordered to move out right away, but it will take the Sheriff another 3 to 5 days to make you get out.
If you have further disputes with your landlord over money or property, these will usually be handled in small claims court after the eviction is over. The court has forms for these situations.
This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.