I am being sued by my former landlord in Small Claims Court for unpaid rent and miscellaneous damages. Last year, I was evicted in Buffalo Landlord/Tenant Court.

Question:

My former landlord is suing me in Small Claims Court for past rent and other "miscellaneous damages." Last year, my former landlord took me to Landlord/Tenant Court and obtained a judgment: (1) evicting me, and (2) requiring me to pay unpaid rent in the amount of $700. What should I expect in Small Claims Court? I am very nervous. 

Answer:

Thank you for your question. Please call our office for more specific advice about your case; however, below is some information you may find helpful.

Small Claims Court

In general, if a person or business damages something you own, you may sue that person or business for the amount of your damages. Small Claims Courts are located in every city, town, and village located in New York State. In Small Claims Court, you may only sue for money, up to $3,000 in Town and Village Courts, and up to $5,000 in City Courts. The party who brings the suit is called the “Claimant” or “Plaintiff,” and the party that is being sued is referred to as the “Defendant.”

While being sued is never enjoyable, thankfully Small Claims Court is less formal than most courtrooms. You may speak with one of three individuals: a mediator, arbitrator, or judge.

Mediator: If a mediator is assigned to your case, you will be given a set date and time to meet with the mediator. The mediator will help both parties arrive at an agreement, which has been agreed upon by both individuals involved in the case.

Arbitrator: If assigned an arbitrator, you will be given a chance to speak with a neutral third-party at the courthouse on your assigned hearing date. The arbitrator applies the same law to your case as a judge. An arbitrator's decision is final and there is no further appeal by either the claimant or defendant.

Judge: If you speak to a judge, as in any court, the decision is solely theirs to make. The decision is binding, and will be mailed to the parties within two to three weeks.

Previous Landlord/Tenant Court Judgment

You state in your question that your former landlord is taking you to Small Claims Court for unpaid rent; however, he or she may not do this. All claims to unpaid rent should have been addressed during the previous Landlord/Tenant Court proceeding. From what you have stated in your question, the Landlord/Tenant Court judge already made a decision and issued a judgment against you for unpaid rent in the amount of $700. If that amount of rent awarded to your former landlord has not been paid, he or she is entitled to that money. However, your former landlord may not relitigate the issue of rent in Small Claims Court in an effort to obtain a judgement for additional rent.

Furthermore, the Landlord/Tenant Court judgment likely provided the date that you warrant of eviction would execute. In Buffalo, warrants are executed by the Buffalo City Marshal's Office. Once the fee is paid, the marshal will post a 72-hour notice at the premises (the minimum notice required by law. A specific date is not given). Marshals only restore the possession of the premises to the landlord, they do not secure or move a tenant's property.

Claims for Miscellaneous Damages by Landlord

In general, if in the process of moving out of your apartment, you damage property, leave items behind, or cause other issues, which require maintenance, repair, or removal of items, your landlord may take you to Small Claims Court to collect any money spent in returning the property to its previous condition. However, the landlord must be able to prove his or her costs through receipts, pictures, and/or witnesses. If necessary, you may file a counterclaim against your former landlord.

Thus, as a practical tip for any renter, always take pictures of the apartment before you move in and before you leave. This evidence will provide you with some peace of mind knowing that you can rebut any improper claims of property damage made against you by your landlord.

Hopefully this information has helped ease your anxiety about appearing in Small Claims Court. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We are always happy to help.