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  1. #1
    GLynne is offline Junior Member
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    Post Civil vs. Small Claims Suits in Ohio

    I'm looking to file a suit for $4200 due to a lease that was broken. I consulted a lawyer in regard to filing a civil suit. He claims hiring a lawyer for this amount is not advisable, and suggested small claims. Since small claims allows suits up to $3000, I would forgo the full amount if I pursued the claim in this court on my own. Is it possible to successfully file a civil suit without a lawyer? What things would I need to know to represent myself? Please advise.
  2. #2
    badapple40 is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by GLynne
    I'm looking to file a suit for $4200 due to a lease that was broken. I consulted a lawyer in regard to filing a civil suit. He claims hiring a lawyer for this amount is not advisable, and suggested small claims. Since small claims allows suits up to $3000, I would forgo the full amount if I pursued the claim in this court on my own. Is it possible to successfully file a civil suit without a lawyer? What things would I need to know to represent myself? Please advise.
    Yes, it is possible. You would need to know/learn the ohio rules of civil procedure, including the requirements for formatting a complaint, etc.

    Were you the tenant? The landlord? What kind of lease? How did the damages get to $4,200? It may be possible to recoup attorney fees, depending on the facts of the case, which might help you in obtaining counsel.

    --BA
    (attorney licensed in ohio)
    The giving or taking of any advice given in this forum does not constitute an attorney-client relationship and any readers of any posts acknowledge that they are not in any type of attorney client relationship with the poster.
  3. #3
    GLynne is offline Junior Member
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    Post Civil vs. Small Claims - Ohio

    I am the landlord, whose tenant is responsible for rent and utility bills for the one-year term of the lease. Seems to me that this case is cut and dry, since I have a written lease. Where do I get more info on the civil suit procedure? The only thing I was given was an example of how to prepare the civil suit. I am prepared to represent myself, unless there is a good reason as to why I would need a lawyer. Would need to know what to expect during the proceedings. Thanks.
  4. #4
    badapple40 is offline Senior Member
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    The rules of evidence apply. Unlike small claims, the judge will not be forgiving or trying to help you out to present your case.

    If your testimony does not meet the requirements for the rules of evidence or the law, you will not prevail.

    If your complaint fails to state a claim (meeting all the legal and procedural elements required), you will not prevail.

    You really need an attorney. Is the extra $1,200 worth you not getting anything?

    I'm sure you can find an attorney to take the case on a contingency.

    True story:

    A friend from law school represented a defendant/insurance company against a pro se plaintiff in an automobile accident case (municipal court, not small claims). The defendant was at fault, the plaintiff clearly entitled to compensation. Nevertheless, the plaintiff failed to give proper testimony concerning the diminished value of the car and failed to introduce the deed of the car into evidence -- two key elements in ohio accident cases to establishing property damage. As a result, my friend won a directed verdict, because the plaintiff failed to properly support her case.

    You are risking a lot by doing this yourself.
    The giving or taking of any advice given in this forum does not constitute an attorney-client relationship and any readers of any posts acknowledge that they are not in any type of attorney client relationship with the poster.
  5. #5
    Ohiogal is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by GLynne
    I am the landlord, whose tenant is responsible for rent and utility bills for the one-year term of the lease. Seems to me that this case is cut and dry, since I have a written lease. Where do I get more info on the civil suit procedure? The only thing I was given was an example of how to prepare the civil suit. I am prepared to represent myself, unless there is a good reason as to why I would need a lawyer. Would need to know what to expect during the proceedings. Thanks.
    Have you tried to rerent the apartment/building or are you just thinking that since you have a lease then it is cut and dried that the tenant owes?
  6. #6
    Ellerge is offline Member
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    I gather that you are a Landlord and the tenant broke their Lease. If this is the situation, KNOW the LL/Tenant Laws in your State! If this is your first time in Court - get a Lawyer. I sincerely doubt that the $4200.00 will fly. Do you have a Lease or were they M t M? What other written documentation do you have? PROVE everything that you say/said in Court or anywhere. What effort did you make to re-rent the Place? Do you have pictures and/or witness statements? Do you have the tenant's SS number and his Job and his bank? Do you have your IRS 1040 and supporting documents? There is so much to know and take with you to court. KNOW what you are doing or be prepared for an expensive lesson!
    Last edited by Ellerge; 02-11-2006 at 04:21 PM.
  7. #7
    GLynne is offline Junior Member
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    Civil vs. Small Claims Suits in Ohio

    I have documentation on just about everything to support my case, including a rental app from someone I turned down in lieu of this tenant. I have tried to rent the place ever since it was vacant, and have sent demand letters for past due rent. I have SSN, place of employment, and home address. I'm not sure what kind of witnesses I would need. Can a family member be a witness? Is it ever possible that Small Claims court would award a higher amount than the $3,000 limit? While I'm sure it is much easier to file a Small Claim, I'm sure others have been self-represented in Civil cases; just need to do my homework to properly present my case. How much proof do I need? The year's lease clearly states the tenant is liable for rent and all damages associated with the breach of a lease. Please advise. Thanks.
  8. #8
    badapple40 is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by GLynne
    I have documentation on just about everything to support my case, including a rental app from someone I turned down in lieu of this tenant. I have tried to rent the place ever since it was vacant, and have sent demand letters for past due rent. I have SSN, place of employment, and home address. I'm not sure what kind of witnesses I would need. Can a family member be a witness? Is it ever possible that Small Claims court would award a higher amount than the $3,000 limit? While I'm sure it is much easier to file a Small Claim, I'm sure others have been self-represented in Civil cases; just need to do my homework to properly present my case. How much proof do I need? The year's lease clearly states the tenant is liable for rent and all damages associated with the breach of a lease. Please advise. Thanks.
    1. A family member can be a witness, but are open to attacks of bias.

    2. No, it is not possible that small claims can award more than $3,000 in damages. They can award $3,000 in damages and appropriate costs on top of that though.

    3. Others have been self represented -- they almost always lose.

    4. You need to establish your damages by a preponderance of evidence.

    You have no idea the can of worms you are opening over $1,800. You will not just hand your documents to the judge as you would do in small claims and tell your side of the story. Instead you will have a formal trial on the record, need to present an opening, call witnesses to the stand (and probably testify yourself in the narrative), and a closing. The judge will not help you or coax the evidence out of you or your witnesses as may occur in a small claims setting. You are on your own, sink or swim.

    You will need to lay a foundation for all documentary proof under the ohio rules of evidence, properly authenticate them, and then have them admitted. Furthermore, if the other side (tenant) has reason for leaving, you can bet that he or she will file a counter-claim, that may offset your claims. It may even bring the amount you are due below $1,800. For instance, if the tenant complained about the conditions of the premises, you could end up owing the tenant when this is all over. Also, security deposit issues may be present. There is, after all, always two sides to the story.

    If you are suing over a penalty clause in your lease, penalty clauses are not allowed in Ohio, look at the case of Samson Sales (out of the Ohio Supreme Court -- I don't know the cite off the top of my head). In other words, you must suffer $4,800 in damages. And the court will look at whether you were reasonably diligent in re-letting the place. It is not enough that you tried once and failed.

    Having warned you of all of this, I say go for it -- if nothing else, it will be a learning experience for the future about paying for competent legal representation.
    The giving or taking of any advice given in this forum does not constitute an attorney-client relationship and any readers of any posts acknowledge that they are not in any type of attorney client relationship with the poster.
  9. #9
    GLynne is offline Junior Member
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    Civil vs. Small Claims Suits in Ohio

    Thanks for the insight into Civil Suits. If I file Small Claims, is it possible to file two claims; one for say the first 6 months, and one for the balance? I realize the amount of the claim does not attract any lawyer to represent it, but unless Ohio raises the dollar amount of the small claims court, many people in my situation continue to lose. Another question about collections; can the plaintiff ask for disclosure immediately in small claims? What are the best avenues to pursue for collection? How long can the court-awarded amount be pursued for collection? I'm still trying to collect on another claim from three years ago. Feeling defeated.
  10. #10
    badapple40 is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by GLynne
    Thanks for the insight into Civil Suits. If I file Small Claims, is it possible to file two claims; one for say the first 6 months, and one for the balance? I realize the amount of the claim does not attract any lawyer to represent it, but unless Ohio raises the dollar amount of the small claims court, many people in my situation continue to lose. Another question about collections; can the plaintiff ask for disclosure immediately in small claims? What are the best avenues to pursue for collection? How long can the court-awarded amount be pursued for collection? I'm still trying to collect on another claim from three years ago. Feeling defeated.
    No, you can't "split" the claims. You aren't losing, you are just capped at $3,000. As for collections, I believe that is 10 years if you have reduced it to judgment. Collecting is not complicated -- so long as you know where they bank, work, or have property.
    The giving or taking of any advice given in this forum does not constitute an attorney-client relationship and any readers of any posts acknowledge that they are not in any type of attorney client relationship with the poster.
  11. #11
    GLynne is offline Junior Member
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    Civil vs. Small Claims Suits in Ohio

    While filing small claims may be easier, I still stand to lose over $1K. If I proceed with a civil suit, how do you find lawyers that work on contingency? Do they collect directly from the defendent when judgement is awarded? On average, what amount could be expected in lawyer's fees on cases like this? I believe I have enough documentation to win this case, hands down. It's a clear cut case of a broken lease, where the tenant left primarily because they didn't get along with their neighbor. Nothing was wrong with the premises. Is there any reason why the courts would not uphold a one-year lease? Tired of being the victim.
  12. #12
    Ohiogal is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by GLynne
    While filing small claims may be easier, I still stand to lose over $1K. If I proceed with a civil suit, how do you find lawyers that work on contingency? Do they collect directly from the defendent when judgement is awarded? On average, what amount could be expected in lawyer's fees on cases like this? I believe I have enough documentation to win this case, hands down. It's a clear cut case of a broken lease, where the tenant left primarily because they didn't get along with their neighbor. Nothing was wrong with the premises. Is there any reason why the courts would not uphold a one-year lease? Tired of being the victim.
    Attorneys charge upwards of $100 an hour. Working on continguency many take up to 44% of the winnings for their fees alone. Court costs, filing fees and what not are extra. Dude go to small claims court, forgo the $1800 and get what you can. if you go the other route you will lose a whole heck of a lot more.
  13. #13
    ENASNI is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ohiogal
    Attorneys charge upwards of $100 an hour. Working on continguency many take up to 44% of the winnings for their fees alone. Court costs, filing fees and what not are extra. Dude go to small claims court, forgo the $1800 and get what you can. if you go the other route you will lose a whole heck of a lot more.

    Gals from Ohio say "Dude"? I thought it was just my state...

    Glynne, this is sound advice, I would do small claims myself, you really have a better chance.

    I hope you post back with the outcome.


    Cali just raised its limit on small claims... I hope I never have to use it.
  14. #14
    Ohiogal is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by ENASNI
    Gals from Ohio say "Dude"? I thought it was just my state...

    Glynne, this is sound advice, I would do small claims myself, you really have a better chance.

    I hope you post back with the outcome.


    Cali just raised its limit on small claims... I hope I never have to use it.
    yeah actually I do. Trying to break myself of it so when I am in court I dont look at the judge and say "Come on Dude... " LOL ... just kidding. I dont actually say it that much but I do use it from time to time.

    Glynne, do post back when you decide what you are doing.
  15. #15
    badapple40 is offline Senior Member
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    You are assuming that a court will award you the extra $1,800. They may not. The tenant may counterclaim, proving that actual rental value was less than that in the lease, that you did not remedy problems with the premises, etc., and you could be under $3,000 when it is all said and done.

    You are risking recovering $0 if you don't go to small claims. All the documentation in the world is not worth anything if you don't present the case properly.

    An attorney will take at least 1/3. 1/3 of $4,800 is $1,600. That leaves you $3,200. Pretty much a wash with doing it yourself. And, again, that presupposes that you actually get $4,800. I haven't seen the paperwork for your case, but do pose the proposition to you that your case might not be worth what you think it is worth. There are nasty surprises that come up on occasion.
    The giving or taking of any advice given in this forum does not constitute an attorney-client relationship and any readers of any posts acknowledge that they are not in any type of attorney client relationship with the poster.

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