Updates regarding St. Joseph County Evictions
As Landlords know, after COVID there have been changes that have occurred to the eviction process, as well as changes in the Magistrates in Small Claims
This post is to advise local landlords and tenants on important aspects of the Eviction and Damages Claim process that you should be aware of prior to attending your hearings
First, currently the judges have to inform the parties that there are some forms of rental assistance available for tenants. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are no longer significant funds that pay many months of rent. The judges are required to present this information but in general, I have not found landlords to be interested at this time.
Second, the judges are informing the tenants that they have a right to seek legal advice and representation and have an option on whether to move forward at the initial eviction hearing or if they will be seeking such advice or representation. If the tenant wants to seek legal assistance, the hearing may not be held and rescheduled for another date. This opportunity for legal representation allows tenants to know their rights as well as their responsibilities. This allows the tenants to become more educated about the process and see if they are able to remain in the property or if the law will require the court to grant possession of the property. The disadvantage is a delay for the landlords in receiving possession of properties when rent has not been being paid.
Bench Trials for Damages
In regard to bench trials on damages, it is becoming more important for the landlord (as well as the tenant in a counterclaim or defense) to show proof of damages. You can bring lists and pictures to court showing that damage has occurred, that there are financial amounts that you are seeking from the defendant(s). However, this is not enough. In order to be properly prepared for a bench trial on damages, you must bring copies of receipts of the costs you are seeking. Copies of statements from contractors who made the repairs (or at least estimates of the costs directly from a contractor). If you bought a piece of drywall from Lowe's for repairs, bring copies of that receipt. The judge will only award you damages that you can prove and documentation is the best form of proof in these types of cases.
Also, for bench trials, bring before and after photographs of the property (move-in and move-out) If you are a tenant, we would recommend that you take photos of the property as well. The photographs for the trial need to be clear, in color, and show the actual damages that are claimed. This also goes for the before pictures so you can establish a clear change in condition.
In summary, it is extremely important for both Landlords and Tenants to be prepared for both the Possession Hearings and Damages Hearings. Prepare to present clear evidence and understand the laws regarding evictions and damages. Our office is able to assist both landlords and tenants in these types of cases and hope that providing information will assist a smoother process for all parties.