How to represent yourself in an eviction hearing in small claims court
Summons and Complaint
Your landlord has filed an eviction case against you. You should receive a summons and complaint. There must be a hearing at court before the landlord can make you move.
- Parties: The Plaintiff is your landlord. You are the Defendant.
- Complaint: The complaint states the landlord’s claims against you. Pay special attention to paragraph 3.
- Summons: The summons is a notice. It states the date, place, courtroom, and time of the hearing.
Small Claims Hearing
Be on time. If you want to dispute the landlord’s claims, you should go to the hearing, and you should be there at least 15 minutes early. Take the summons with you to help you find the right courtroom.
If you are not at court on time, a magistrate can make a decision without you. The magistrate can decide that you have to move. The magistrate might also decide that you owe rent or other costs.
You do not have to come to court. You will not be arrested for not coming to the hearing, but if you do not come, the case will proceed and the magistrate will rule based on your landlord’s evidence.
The hearing. Your landlord filed the court case and speaks first. Your landlord can have witnesses testify. You can ask questions to your landlord and your landlord’s witnesses.
When your landlord is done, it will be your turn. Talk about your case and why you should not be evicted. The magistrate or landlord can ask you questions. Listen to the questions. Keep your answers short and respectful. Tell the magistrate if you have witnesses. When they testify, ask them questions.
Be prepared. You must be ready to make your case. It is your responsibility to discuss all the facts, claims and defenses that you want the court to consider.
Tips. At the hearing, you can represent yourself or have a lawyer. If you represent yourself, here are some tips.
- Be respectful. Call the magistrate “Your Honor.” Do not interrupt the magistrate or a witness.
- Be convincing. Tell the magistrate that you want to make claims, and what those claims are. Possible defenses are listed below.
- Take notes with you. Have a written list of the important facts and your claims. This will help you remember what to tell the magistrate.
- Take your documents with you. Take the lease, rent receipts, repair requests, inspection reports, and other documents. You must have those with you if you want to use them.
- Have three copies of any documents that you want to show to the magistrate. One copy is for the magistrate, one copy is for the landlord, and the third is for you.
- Electronic evidence. Print any information from a phone that you want to use. This includes texts, e-mails, and pictures. The magistrate will not look at your phone.
Possible defenses for tenants. One or more of the following defenses may stop the eviction.
- You do not owe rent. The landlord claims that you owe more monthly rent than you agreed to pay. Or, you made payments that have not been credited to your rent account.
- You did not violate the lease or any “house rules” that are part of the lease.
- You paid rent or made a new lease after a lease violation. If that happened, the landlord may have waived, or given up the right to evict you.
- You offered the rent on time, but your landlord wrongfully refused to accept it.
- You did not get correct notice. The landlord gave you no notice or not enough notice.
- Discrimination. The landlord’s reason for evicting you is illegal discrimination (for example, based on your race, religion, gender, handicap, or national origin).
- Domestic violence. Domestic violence happened in your home. The landlord’s reason for evicting you is that you were the victim of violence, or someone living with you was the victim.
- Problem conditions. You asked for repairs. The landlord did not make repairs. You may not owe the full rent.
- Retaliatory eviction. The landlord wants to evict you because of your complaints or requests for repairs.
- Wrongful eviction. Before the court case, your landlord did something illegal to try to make you move. Examples: The landlord changed the lock, or cut off the water or power, or refused to fix the wiring, A/C or heating, or plumbing.
Not paying rent because you lost your job, paid for car repairs, or paid some other emergency expense is not a valid defense. You may, however, have a different defense.
- Related: A Guide to Small Claims Court
Your Right to Appeal
If the eviction is ordered, you do not have to move right away. You have the right to appeal.
- If you want to appeal. You have 10 calendar days (not business days) to appeal. You cannot have any extra time to file the appeal. The 10 days start on the day after the hearing. You can appeal even if you do not attend the hearing. Appealing gets you a new hearing in district court. To appeal and stay in your home until the district court hearing, you must file appeal documents at the courthouse and pay rent as it comes due. You also may have to pay filing fees (they can be waived in some situations) and past due rent.
- If you do not appeal the eviction. You may stay in the home for 10 calendar days (NOT business days) after the judge orders the eviction. The 10 days start on the day after the hearing. You do not have to pay any money to your landlord to stay in your home during those 10 days. Only the sheriff can make you move out.
- Related: Eviction Appeals
Need an Attorney?
- Call our Helpline at 1 (866) 219-LANC (5262) to apply for help from Legal Aid of North Carolina.