Janice S. decided to hire a Dallas eviction attorney after her tenant appealed a Justice of the Peace trial and obtained her own court-appointed attorney. Janice made an error when filing her case, however. This error was fatal to her case as it was highly likely to result in a dismissal. Janice hired a Dallas eviction attorney, L. Marc Girling, who quickly identified the weaknesses in Janice’s case, developed a strategy to minimize her risk, and successfully executed on that strategy. Girling Law solved the problem of Janice’s non-paying tenant efficiently. More importantly, Janice’s Dallas eviction attorney avoided a very expensive outcome: having the non-paying tenant’s attorney appeal the County Court at Law trial to the 5th Court of Appeals.
EVICTION CASE BACKGROUND:
Janice’s non-paying tenant moved into the property after signing a written lease agreement towards the end of 2014. At the time, Janice was unaware her new tenant had a couple of judgments.
Janice had her tenant sign a Texas Association of Realtors lease agreement. It was great to see our client took the initiative to use a written lease! Unfortunately, she did not involve a Texas Realtor in finding a tenant. Because of this, there was language in the lease agreement that enabled her non-paying tenant to declare the lease void. With an attorney representing Janice’s tenant, this increased Janice’s risk substantially.
Janice’s tenant started being a problem very early on. During the first six months of the lease, the tenant missed two payments and had a local church pay a third. By April of 2015, the tenant started making regular payments again. She would also pay an extra $100 towards the unpaid rent. But at this rate it would take several years to pay off the two missed payments.
THE JUSTICE OF THE PEACE TRIAL
Janice and her tenant stated getting into shouting matches by the end of 2015. Fed up with her tenant’s behavior, Janice handed her tenant a 3 day notice to vacate. This was a problem for Janice because she had no way of proving she delivered the notice. Also, Janice filed her eviction petition a day early.
The Justice of the Peace caught none of these issues. It is not unusual for a Justice of the Peace to miss details like this when a non-paying tenant fails to appear at trial. Janice’s tenant filed a timely appeal by paying a cash bond. With a cash bond, the tenant eliminated several opportunities for Janice to challenge her non-paying tenant’s appeal. Janice’s tenant also filed a timely written response to the lawsuit. This eliminated another opportunity to fast-track the eviction.
Janice’s tenant made some really great decisions during her appeal process. In fact, these decisions forced Janice’s Dallas eviction attorneys to go to trial with a voidable lease and an improperly delivered notice to vacate. There was no way for Janice to correct either of these issues.
RENTAL PROPERTY LOCATION: Dallas, TX
EVICTION COURT LOCATION: Dallas, TX
NON-PAYING TENANT EVICTION TRIAL OUTCOME:
Prior to trial, Janice’s Dallas eviction attorney made a point of contacting the non-paying tenant’s attorney early. Girling Law realized that settlement was key to avoiding the Judge dismissing Janice’s case and forcing her to restart the eviction process. During the pre-trial negotiation, Janice’s legal team concluded the tenant’s attorney was unaware that the lease was voidable. The opposing attorney did, however, know that the eviction lawsuit was filed too early. Janice’s Dallas eviction attorney pointed to a section of the lease that required only a 24 hour notice to vacate.
Girling Law was unable to reach an agreement before the day of trial. However, settlement was very close. The parties’ attorneys checked in with the court and asked the Judge for some additional time to attempt to settle. The Judge agreed to put the parties’ case towards the bottom of the morning docket to give everyone more time to talk.
During these discussions the non-paying tenant stated in our presence that she did not want to have an eviction judgment on her record. Recognizing this as a pressure point, we immediately told her attorney that if we were forced to restart the eviction process we would pursue a new case until we obtained a judgment. Following this conversation Girling Law was able to get the non-paying tenant to agree to terms that fell within Janice’s settlement authority. Janice’s Dallas eviction attorney had an enforceable settlement agreement ready to go. Both parties signed the settlement agreement and we “proved up” the settlement agreement on the court’s records.
The tenant later moved out of the property. Janice’s Dallas eviction attorneys filed for the return of the cash bond the tenant had previously paid. After the court returned the money to Girling Law’s office, the firm forwarded the money to Janice.
DALLAS EVICTION ATTORNEY OBSERVATIONS:
This is one of many cases you will find in our law firm’s blogs about landlords making errors in the eviction process. This is very common. Although the eviction process is supposed to be very simple, the reality is there are many steps to the process and quite a few pitfalls. It is easy to make a mistake in an eviction case if you don’t regularly evict tenants. Some mistakes are recoverable, some are fatal.
In Janice’s case, she had one fatal mistake – the fact she filed her eviction lawsuit too early. Janice’s non-compliance with her lease agreement’s copyright language was also problematic. However, this error would not have caused a dismissal. It would have only deprived her of money damages (rent and attorney fees).
Despite even the presence of errors that are fatal to an eviction, this case shows there are often ways to work around those errors. Sometimes knowing how to work around such issues requires a thorough knowledge of Texas eviction laws. Sometimes, it just requires an understanding of the landlord’s options and an ability to effectively communicate that understanding to the non-paying tenant. Having a keen “street sense” is also important. Knowing how to identify and exploit your tenant’s pressure points is often key to surviving a fatal mistake like the one in Janice’s case. An effective Dallas eviction attorney will know how to effectively handle a situation like Janice’s.