• Editor’s note: This is the second and final installment in a series on landlord-tenant disputes.
Kaua‘i’s landlords and tenants may face some difficult choices when Gov. David Ige’s moratorium on residential evictions is eventually lifted. Now is a good time to consider your options for resolving any outstanding payment disputes.
Mediation is often your first, best option. It costs substantially less, and many cases settle before trial, leaving litigants with attorney and court costs they did not need to pay.
For those contemplating litigation, the first thing to know is there are two basic types of landlord-tenant lawsuits:
1) Security-deposit disputes. These are small-claims cases. Attorneys cannot appear for trial unless the attorney is either the landlord or tenant and are representing themselves;
2) Evictions. In these regular claims cases an attorney may represent you.
Both are civil (non-criminal) cases, so you do not have the right to a court-appointed attorney. You may hire an attorney or represent yourself in court.
Following the rule of law, both parties have the right to be heard by an impartial judge who is guided by the law. The judge must give each side’s story full consideration, and treat both parties equally by upholding their legally-guaranteed rights. This is part of the vital role our courts play in preserving and ensuring a fair and just society for all.
It is important to understand that if you are unable to effectively present your case, you could face serious consequences, even when you have a viable legal claim. If you choose to represent yourself in court, the judge must remain impartial, and cannot help you, so it is best to prepare for trial in advance.
The following is not legal advice, merely suggestions about organizing your case.
• Bring printed copies of anything showing what was agreed to or said to support your case, including printed copies of your lease, receipts, invoices, canceled checks, emails, screen shots of texts, etc.;
• Mark all evidence as “exhibits.” Bring copies for both the judge and the other party;
• Have any witnesses in court ready to testify. The judge may not accept written statements without live witnesses. Even statements given under oath won’t hold much weight if the witness cannot be questioned;
• Bring notes so you can tell your story in a calm, respectful, organized way. This will help the judge understand what transpired.
The better you can present your case and support it with evidence, the better your chances in court. If you lose there are no appeals for small claims.
For more information, go to the Hawai‘i State Judiciary’s website, courts.state.hi.us/, search “Landlord-Tenant Claims,” “Small Claims Questions and Answers,” “Regular Claims,” “Tips on Going to Court” and “Tips for Participating Remotely.
Also review Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, Chapter 521, Residential Landlord-Tenant Code, and Chapter 666, Landlord and Tenant.
For a free consultation with a volunteer attorney, search “Kaua‘i Self-Help Center” at the same website.
Last week was National Judicial Outreach Week, which occurs annually in the first week of March. During the observation, judges engage with their communities to discuss the rule of law and the work courts do every day. Preservation of our liberties depends on preservation of the rule of law and fair, impartial courts.
The Honorable Michael K. Soong is deputy chief judge of Hawai‘i’s Fifth Judicial Circuit (Kaua‘i county).