Eviction Court, Part III: “She’ll tell you they’re selling drugs in her apartment, Your Honor!”

Eviction Court, Part III: “She’ll tell you they’re selling drugs in her apartment, Your Honor!”

 

Read "Eviction Court, Part II: Tiny Kingdoms"

One of the first trials I observed involved a frustrated landlord who was trying to get rid of a tenant for being a general pain in the wah-wah.  The problem was not so much over delinquent rent as constant arguments about a variety of issues.  

The landlord was tired of trying to resolve these never-ending conflicts and was just ready for the tenant to leave.  The landlord told the judge, “I was gonna give her another chance until I found out drugs were being sold there--then I was done with her.”

“Do you have any proof that drugs were being sold there?” the judge asked.  

Now this might sound like a tricky one. How do you prove that a tenant is using your unit for such illegal activities?   Short of having very clear and indisputable video footage of multiple transactions happening at your location?   (Don’t forget, even a video didn’t convince some people about R. Kelly’s golden showers.)  One thing to show good faith that you didn’t just make up a false accusation on the spot to try to swing the case in your favor is if you have at the very least called the police in the past to investigate an alleged pharmaceutical entrepreneur in the act.

Even though the landlord’s accusation seemed sincere, the judge caught her off guard.  “No, I don’t have proof,” the landlord said defensively. “But she knows drugs were being sold there.  She can tell you.”

Note to self: “WTF???”  Apparently caught up in the emotion of the moment and throwing all logic out the window, I could not believe the landlord offered that brilliant suggestion with a straight face.  Obviously I wasn’t the only one because a collective chuckle rose up in the courtroom.  The judge, however, was not amused.

“You’re asking her to admit to illegal activity?!” the judge frowned.  “That’s not gonna happen.”

The landlord tried another tactic. “Well she cussed me out, too.  What about disrespect?!”

The judge said, “’Disrespect’ is not a lease violation.  Just because you guys don’t like each other is not a reason to throw her out.  You can choose not to rent to her again.”

The judge then attempted to try to understand the tenant’s/defendant’s side of the story.  It quickly became clear why the landlord was having trouble interacting with this individual.  Not only would the tenant cut in when the landlord was speaking, the tenant also talked over the judge.  The best movie-style one liner of the day was when the judge yelled, “If you keep interrupting me, it’s NOT gonna be good for you!”

After several simple questions from the judge and several impatient answers from the tenant, the tenant really showed her attitude.  She exclaimed, “Judge, could we just have the trial?!! Because me and you arguing back and forth like this is not working for me!”

The judge yelled back, “This IS the trial!”

I did not expect eviction court to be such a comedy show but this stuff was better than going to Second City.  The ruling in this case surprised me, though.  Even though the tenant was disrespectful to both the landlord AND the judge, the judge ruled in the tenant’s favor!  The judge said the landlord did not have enough documentation to present a strong case. 

Let that be a lesson to you, noble landlords.  You could be 100% honest and fully justified in all your righteous indignation.  You could also stand across the aisle from a rude, obnoxious tenant who shows blatant contempt to both you AND the judge.  But if you don’t bring in enough valid proof to support your claims you’re tying the judge’s hands—and shooting yourself in the foot.  Be prepared and never expect a tenant to build your case for you.  Even though I could tell the judge wanted to put this tenant out, judges have a legal obligation to show impartial fairness--even to jerks—if the burden of proof is not supported.  In the end, I do believe I’m grateful for that.

Check out "Eviction Court, Part IV: “You TELL 'em, King Judge!"

Also check out these links:

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  • "Woman Facing Eviction Goes Off On Tenant-Landlord Dispute" A 3-minute news clip of an unfortunate situation involving a Madison, Wisconsin landlord who tried to help a Chicago family avoid homelessness.  She was forced to start an eviction instead.  LANDLORDS, NEVER LET KINDNESS CLOUD YOUR GOOD JUDGEMENT.  ALWAYS practice good business sense and protect yourself, even when you try to extend a courtesy.

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