When can a landlord sue a tenant for unpaid rent?


Mary: Hi there. My question is this. I was renting from a person and became past due for over a bunch of reasons, lots of months past due. And now I've been served to be evicted so we moved and now I've been served with a pre-trial hearing. He wants the past due rent.

My question is this, originally when I moved to her piece of property, she agreed – we have a signed rental agreement that she would provide the utilities, the electric, the water was included. Cable was also included through the homeowner’s association basically.

Midway, a few months in, she decided that the electric bill is too high so she didn’t want to pay that. She was thinking it’ll be $100 a month and it did go over that in the summertime. She decided that she was not going to do that. She said, “I have to pay the electricity.” We changed and I started paying my own electric. He did not reduce the rent in any way.

We went through all that time of that and here we are now and I explained to her when I spoke to her on the phone, she's telling me how much money I owe her and I said, “What about the fact that you said the electrical is included.”

Attorney Tom Olsen: Mary, I think that you both agreed to modify your lease from her paying electric to your paying electric. You voluntarily agreed to that change. That’s not going to be some kind of credit to you or help to you as far as her suit against you for unpaid rent.

Mary: And to continue on with the same issue, I can’t afford a lawyer. How do I represent myself?

Attorney Tom Olsen: How much is she suing you for, Mary?

Mary: Forty-five hundred.

Attorney Tom Olsen: And Mary is she suing you or you and your husband or any other group?

Mary: Me and my husband.

Attorney Tom Olsen: And you were both on the lease?

Mary: I'm not sure about that. I have to look at it.

Attorney Tom Olsen: Mary, you guys are in small claims court. If you go and represent yourself, the judge is going to assist you. He's going to ask you the right questions but Mary, your case should be pretty simple or black and white in the sense that you have X amount of dollars in unpaid rent plus court costs. And if your landlord is represented by an attorney, plus attorney’s fees.

Really, the best you can do is make sure that the judge isn’t against you is correct and hopefully work with your landlord about paying them off for a period of time.

Mary: Well, thank you very much.