How to Sue an Apartment Complex
Depending on where you live, finding a good rental can be a challenge. Even if you secure the perfect apartment, your relationship with the landlord or management company might not stay cordial forever. If a conflict continues to worsen, you might decide that you need to sue the apartment complex. Should this occur, it’s important to know your legal rights and how to proceed with your case.
Grounds to Sue
Before you begin the process of suing your apartment complex, you must make sure that you have the appropriate grounds for a lawsuit. Landlords can break the law in many ways, which include failing to provide you with a habitable living environment, breaking the terms of the lease, entering your apartment without the required notice, failing to return your security deposit, or taking other illegal actions against you like changing the locks if you are a few days behind on rent. Each of these violations has specific legal components referred to as elements that you must prove in court — and that can vary from state to state. You must have sufficient proof, meaning evidence to back up your claims. You also need to determine what you would like the court to do, such as award you a sum of money as damages. Keep in mind that you might benefit from the advice of an attorney to get some indication of the strength of your case before proceeding.
Drafting the Complaint
Once you determine that you have sufficient grounds to sue, you can begin drafting the complaint, sometimes called a petition. A complaint initiates the lawsuit — and you need to format it in a way that conforms to local court rules. Most rules require that a complaint follow a specific format and that you list the important facts relevant to your claim, as well as the law that you believe was broken or the contract term violated, in numbered paragraphs. You then have to file this document with the civil court in the county where the rental property is located. If you are only requesting a limited amount of money damages, you may be able to file in small claims court. The exact dollar amount maximum for a small claims case can vary from state to state, but small claims courts operate in a more informal manner and often provide fill-in-the-blank complaint forms for your convenience.
Service of Process
After you draft and file the complaint, you must ensure that a copy of this paperwork is personally delivered to the landlord. This is referred to as service of process. In many states, either a sheriff or professional process server can serve the paperwork. Determining who to serve the papers on can be a bit confusing if the landlord is not the person who owns the property. Although state rules vary, typically, if the apartment complex has a management company that oversees the operation of the rental units, those employed to run the business are qualified to accept service.
Once the lawsuit is initiated and the papers served, the case moves forward. The court may hold some pretrial meetings — and you might have to attend mediation to attempt to settle the case outside the court. If this fails, the matter proceeds to a stage called discovery, in which you and the landlord exchange the information and the evidence you both intend to present at trial. Once discovery is complete and if you still haven’t reached a settlement, your case goes to trial in front of a judge or jury. During the trial, you will have an opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence that support your position. You will also be able to ask questions of any witnesses that your landlord presents. Once the trial is complete, the judge or jury issues a decision either awarding your the relief you requested or ruling in favor of the apartment complex.