A Day in Las Vegas Justice Court
Yesterday I attended Las Vegas Justice Court for an eviction hearing. Our company, RESYS Real Estate, was called to respond to a summary eviction hearing. The courtroom was packed with landlords and tenants, with every seat filled. We were dreading the long wait to have the judge hear our case. But in the meantime we listened to a number of other cases and I thought that others might be interested in the types of eviction cases that were being heard.
In most cases the tenants were fighting for their life and a place to live in spite of the fact they had not paid their rent. The tenants often had no place to move to and did not have the funds to find a new rental. However, landlords have a right to be paid for the property they supply, and the tenants obligated themselves by agreeing to a lease contract. They were all adults when the lease was signed and all parties are expected to abide the rules.
The first case was a disabled woman tenant who as late on her rent. She "answered" the 5 Day Notice and received a hearing. The landlord said the tenant was a habitual late paying tenant and was frequently issued eviction notices. The tenant fought all the notices and received numerous delays by requesting hearing. She admitted she gained time to gather funds to pay the past due rent. The tenant stated she was disabled and had to wait for disability and Section 8 payments before she could pay the rent. She was unable to pay the rent due now and the judge ordered her evicted.
The next case was strange because the tenant actually lived in the same house as the landlord. The landlord sectioned off a portion of the house and rented it out. The utility payments were split between the two parties. Rent payments became late and the friction between occupants grew to a hostile stage. The landlord claimed the rent was unpaid and tenant says he paid it. The tenant brought a witness, who ultimately could not confirm the rent was paid?! What?!! Goofy tenants. Rent was supposedly paid in cash and the judge couldn't tell if the rent was paid or not. After a half hour of meaningless banter between parties the judge finally let the tenant off the hook and denied the eviction for the lack of proof of payment...by either party.
The next tenant refused to pay rent because the roof had a leak. However the roof was repaired and the ceiling was repaired but the tenant still refused to pay the rent. The tenant claimed there was a habitability issue and she didn't want to pay rent for a unit with a defective roof. The truth came out when the judge stated the tenant must post the rent payment with the court in order to claim a habitability issue. If the rent is paid to the court first then the defective property issue can be heard by the judge. The tenant didn't post the rents and could not do so. The judge then asked her if she could pay the rent. She could not pay and ultimately the tenant was evicted.
Our case was heard 3 hours after the scheduled start time and we won our case. We won the debate about the rent payment and the tenant was evicted.
As I watched about 15 cases and I could predict the outcome of the confrontation by my knowledge of the state landlord/tenant laws. The judge was new and relatively unsure of himself and as the cases progressed we guessed the outcomes based on the past 20 years experience going to court. The judge didn't know the law and didn't know what to ask or to do most of the time. It took longer for the judge to reach a decision than we were able to.
The truth is a property manager's experience in the courtroom and knowledge of the laws will ultimately insure 90% of the time you will win the case. However, there were some real weird demands by tenants that confounded the judge and he knuckled under because he didn't know the answer or the law well enough. You're never going to win them all because the courts are sympathetic to the tenant's position but the judge must rule by the laws.of the state Sometimes the humanity of the situation is lost if the tenants are truly needy but the rent payment generally controls the outcome of the case.