Help! I just got served with eviction papers. What do I do?
First, take a deep breath and relax. This is a long process and you are at the beginning of it. Nobody is showing up at your doorstep to kick you out in the foreseeable future. (If that happens, call 911 and call us immediately. You are entitled to triple damages for an illegal lockout.)
If you are being sued for nonpayment of rent, you must go to the clerk’s office to submit your answer and you’ll get a court date then. Off the record, don’t worry if you’re not exactly within the 5 days. Nobody is that on top of things and it takes a while for a landlord to get a default judgment. If you’re sued for any other reason, it’s called a “holdover”, and your court papers will have the first court date on them.
Nobody is ever actually ready to do anything on the very first court date. You can go in by yourself and request an adjournment (postponement) to get an attorney and you should have no problem getting it.
When you get to the courtroom, there’s a list outside of all the cases; look for the red number next to your case and go inside and give that number to the court officer. You’ll then wait for the landlord’s attorney who will want to speak to you in the hallway. Don’t feel obligated to talk with him or her, especially if s/he is being a jerk. Just say “I want to conference with the court attorney” and you can pick a date that way.
The vast majority of people find it is well worth their while to at least consult with an attorney before proceeding, if not hiring one. There are a lot of technical defenses, strategy points, insights about judges, and other helpful information that we tenant attorneys can offer you, even if you intend to represent yourself going forward. Sometimes I tell tenants “you absolutely need an attorney”, but there are plenty of times where people come in for a consultation, I give them a road map, and they feel well equipped to move forward at that point.
If you’re in doubt, just give us a call.
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