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Who will win this small claims court case over rent?

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by njones89, Dec 20, 2017.

  1. njones89


    Mar 27, 2015
    Sioux Falls
    My girlfriend recently moved in with me. Before, she was living with her friend, D, as a tenant with some kind of agreement to rent and utilities through text. D had recently bought a house and started renovating it. The renovations stopped about 2 months into ownership and she left the house in shambles. She stopped taking care of things, and she took in other roommates who followed her bad habits. Dirty, moldy dishes in the sink with backed up plumbing that didn't work... she puked in the bathtub and didn't clean it up for days, her pet cat peed and pooped everywhere and she didn't clean it up. My girlfriend was spending most of time at my place, so it didn't bother her too much at first, but when D puked in the bathtub, that was it.

    My girlfriend cleaned all the dishes in the bathtub, and after that, D said she was going to charge everybody money to have a plumber come out and fix it. My girlfriend didn't agree to that because she didn't contribute to the problem, and despite that, she cleaned up the mess anyway. I went over there and fixed the plumbing myself and asked for $30. D did not pay me. So my girlfriend decided to stop paying rent in/for November due to the unlivable conditions experienced, and she moved out on November 14th. D went through her stuff and found out she was packing, and locked her out of the house. We had to contact law enforcement to get the rest of her belongings. Afterward, D started harassing through text by saying she has some of her possessions and will not give them to her unless she pays the rent owed. She has been texting quite a bit ever since this happened, and today I got a text message from her saying she wants to let us both know she is filing for small claims court!

    I'm thinking GOOD because I don't think she has a chance and the matters were handled illegally in a number of ways. I tried to summarize everything while providing the necessary details. Based off what I shared here, under the presumption that my girlfriend has screenshots of text messages as proof, what are the chances that this will play off in her favor? What are some tips on organizing and prepping for small claims? Neither she nor I have ever been to court. I think my girlfriend should countersue, because she would have preferred to continue living there, but she had to move in with me, and she had to front the cost of a deposit, background check, etc. Is this a good idea?
  2. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    I'm curious. Most of the no-lease, barfo flophouses I have ever had experience with were not the type of thing anyone got sued over when people came and went at random.
  3. MJ5150

    MJ5150 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2001
    Olympia, WA
    I would delete this thread as all of what gets said here could be used as evidence in the court case.

    Joedog, bolophonic and fdeck like this.
  4. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Your town may have some sort of tenant's rights organization. If so, then those folks will be able to help steer your way through this.
    SunnBass likes this.
  5. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Song Surgeon slow downer. https://tinyurl.com/y5dcuqjg
    Counter sue. You'll win.
  6. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    1) Does she have any pics of the horrible living conditions?

    2) Was there ANY paperwork done for this "lease"?

    3) The best thing about small claims (in my experience anyway) is that there are no attorneys involved. Your expense will be nominal. Go in there and state your case and let the judge hammer it out. You don't really have anything to lose.

    4) "D" is probably bluffing to begin with. Respond with "Great! We can finally have a third party sort this out! I welcome the opportunity to settle this."
  7. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    I'm going with a verbal agreement is not worth the paper it's written on. I'm not sure what the limit is these days, at one time it was $500 in small claims. Also, as has been stated already, counter sue. You gotta be there any way so why not. Have you received anything but text messages about this. I'm thinking you should be getting some kind of paperwork in the mail, if not I'd at least call the courthouse and find out for certain. If one fails to show the other side wins by default so it would pay to be sure. I might tend to not worry about ti too much unless and until you get some kind of official notice of action.
  8. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Song Surgeon slow downer. https://tinyurl.com/y5dcuqjg
    The lock out wins the case.
    Indiana Mike and reddog like this.
  9. craigie


    Nov 11, 2015
    Did the homeowner report any of the rent money as income (assuming the rentals have been going on for more than one year). A verbal agreement tells me no.

    If no then she has a lot more to lose in taxes and broke the law if it’s the same there as here.

    What a waste of time and energy for all involved.
  10. How do you know it was D's cat defiling the place and not your girlfriend's cat?
  11. reddog

    reddog Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Philly burbs
    "Rent is sacred." Generally speaking you can't withold it. If there is a problem with the home you address that independantly.

    No written lease?
    How often was rent paid? This will determine how much notice you were to give before leaving. If you pay monthly, you were to give a month''s notice.

    Have pictures. Judges like clear documentation. Any receipts? My guess is there is probably no need to file your own case. The judge will deduct your loss and expense from any amount you owe.

    The lockout will help win the judoes favor.

    Contact your local legal aid society for free advice.
    Joedog likes this.
  12. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    I haven't seen the texted "some kind of agreement". But a landlord can't just lock someone out. It also sounds like the conditions were not habitable. Best bet is to get the other tenants together - they can all act as witnesses for each other, and hopefully someone will have some photos of the interior. If the exterior looks like #&&$@@, get some photos now - you can tell the judge the interior looks just as bad if that's true. If you are going to countersue, get organized to the penny - receipts, etc. No judge is going to want to hear this one.
  13. Plake

    Plake Supporting Member

    Dec 20, 2010
    Your GF will win. Save all texts (the threat she is withholding property is pure gold). Bill D for any repairs you did. Text D to refrain from all contact as you find this alarming. Good luck.
  14. The side with the most evidence, and least unsubstantiated hearsay. Also, be prepared, and dress nice.
    JMacBass65 and njones89 like this.
  15. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    Anything under $5,000 is a waste of the courts' time. Seriously people, SUCK IT UP.
    craigie, JMacBass65 and njones89 like this.
  16. Ben B

    Ben B

    Jul 13, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    OP, the fact that a residence is filthy or in disrepair is a justifiable reason to give proper notice and move out, but it does not relieve you of an obligation to pay rent.

    You didn't mention anything about a multi-month lease, so, I'm going to assume the rental agreement was month to month. Laws and rental agreements may differ, but I think the common rule is that tenants have to give a 30 day notice that they do not intend to continue renting. And of course they pay the rent in advance for that 30 days. You didn't mention that your girlfriend gave notice that she was moving out. So unless laws or an agreement state differently she would be obligated to pay November's rent.

    OTOH, a landlord can't lock out a tenant. And they most certainly can't try to collect rent for the remainder of the month once they've locked out a tenant. You didn't specifically state when the lockout happened, but I assume it was on November 14th. If that's correct, then I suspect your girlfriend could be liable for rent for Nov 1 - 14 if this went to court. And if D can prove your girl friend broke anything or left her areas unclean, D may be entitled to keep some of the security deposit (if there was one).

    That said, locking out a tenant, even for failure to pay rent, may be in violation of tenant's rights laws. You should check with your state or county. If a tenant's right laws was violated, your girlfriend could counter-sue if this matter goes to small claims court.

    (Edited for clarity)
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2017
  17. njones89


    Mar 27, 2015
    Sioux Falls
    Some more details. I advised my girlfriend to pay prorated rent up to the day she moved out because she was locked out, but then D sent some nasty messages about having and withholding some of my GF's property, so I then advised her to not respond and to let her settle it in small claims if that's what she wants. She agreed to $350 per month and split utilities. She was only there from July until November. There was no deposit. I guess that means month to month? I seriously doubt that D was counting rent as income or keeping it separate. How will she even prove payment or lack of payment? The judge is going to look at her bank statement and tear her apart, I think. She is a 21 year old child with no understanding of landlord-tenant laws. My GF apparently asked in October if it was okay to be late on rent in November and D agreed and she has proof of this.

    If she countersues, would this be appropriate?

    $375 first months rent at new place
    $200 security deposit
    $60 nonrefundable application fee charge
    $200 for withholding of property/threats (she doesn't know what all the property is, but there is a bean bag toss game, and a bike at least)
    $30 for my "plumbing services" (or should it be more despite 30 being what I asked?)
    Total: $865
  18. pcake

    pcake Supporting Member

    Sep 20, 2011
    Los Angeleez
    i could be remembering wrong, but as i recall when reading about tenants rights in california you are required as a tenant to give notification (official in writing notification) to require needed repairs to be made. that written notification must be followed up with more written stuff. technically if this isn't done, you can be sued for back rent. that being said, i know people who have been in a similar situation and the judge chose to find in favor of the tenants.

    i'm not sure that having an agreement via text is a good thing - it couldn't hurt, because small claims tends in my experience to take these things into account, but tenants here are supposed to have a lease or rental agreement that both people sign that is binding and enforceable. it doesn't sound like your GF has anything that both parties signed, so technically there may be no binding legal agreement as i understand it, but then i'm not a lawyer. and even if there isn't there are probably laws protecting unofficial tenants. i suspect a judge could find in your GF's favor, especially a small claims judge.

    small claims gets through these things quickly, and countersuing may not be helpful. has your GF been served papers to appear in court? here in california, she would have have to have been served. but her ex roommate could also lie and say she can't find her to serve her, so best to communicate on this via text.

    depending on how crazy your GF's roommate is, starting a suit might make hers go away or could make her crazier and madder and more vengeful.

    i STRONGLY suggest you read all landlord, tenant and roommate rules and laws for the area the residence your GF and this person shared and then, armed with the actual laws, you can decide how best to go forward and what your GF can and can't sue for.

    btw, pretty darn sure you can't sue for a deposit if you didn't pay one.
  19. njones89


    Mar 27, 2015
    Sioux Falls
    I am not talking about suing for a security deposit that she didn't pay... I am talking about countersuing for costs of finding another residence, which includes application fee, first months rent, and deposit. I am not sure if that's doable or not.

    I agree that the situation is pretty messed up. I would NEVER rent a property without a leasing agreement and I knew from the start that this would get hairy and that it would only be a matter of time. I was thinking that if D can't serve the papers, she can't really sue. So I thought it would be in my GF's best interest to just not respond to the texts and make it as difficult as possible.
  20. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Song Surgeon slow downer. https://tinyurl.com/y5dcuqjg
    Is there a Housing Authority or Landlord/Tenant service in your area?
    SunnBass likes this.

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