As the landlord or property manager, why do I need to show up at the damages hearing to testify?
Generally, the landlord or property manager is the plaintiff in an eviction matter. The plaintiff has the burden of proof on its claims in front of the court. The burden of proof is the plaintiff’s duty to convince the court that it should prevail on its legal claims against the tenant. To satisfy this burden of proof, the plaintiff must offer evidence in the form of testimony, documents, and/or exhibits that support its claims.
Courts have specific rules governing what evidence can be used to prove a claim. In general, an individual testifying on behalf of the landlord must have personal knowledge about what he/she is stating. In other words, that person must have been in a position to observe the matter about which he/she is testifying. For example, if someone is testifying about damages to a rental premises that person should have been in a position to observe the damages firsthand. The court wants that kind of reliability be- fore it will accept that person’s testimony on damages to a rental unit.
A line of questioning concerning damages may proceed as follows:
Q: How did the tenant leave the carpeting after he moved out of the rental unit?
A: There were cigarette burns in several places in the living room. There was a large stain where the dining room table had been. There were black marks on the hallway carpeting where the tenant had parked his bike. There were urine stains in the closet on the first floor master where the tenant kept the litter box.
Q: How do you know about these damages?
A: I walked through the unit the day after the tenant vacated and saw the damages with my own eyes.
Q: How do you know these damages did not exist prior to the tenant moving in to the premises?
A: I was involved in renting the unit prior to the tenant’s move-in and had been through the unit at least a dozen times prior to the tenant’s move-in. I also took pictures of the condition of the premises immediately prior to the tenant’s move-in. I have those pictures with me if you’d like to present them to the court.
Imagine the issues that would result if the witness testifying had not been in a position to physically observe the damages caused by the tenant or how the unit was delivered to the tenant prior to move-in. If the witness was not in the position to observe firsthand the condition of the unit at either point in time, his testimony would not be reliable on these points and the court would not accept it. Or the tenant’s attorney would tear the witness apart on cross examination.
Or imagine if the witness was just going on what someone else had told him.
Q: You have before you several pictures purportedly showing the condition of the premises before the tenant moved in. Did you take these pictures?
A: An employee for the management company took the pictures.
Q: How are you associated with the property management company.
A: I was hired to post the 3 day eviction notice.
Q: So you are not associated with the property management company?
A: Well, no, I’m not.
Q: When were the pictures taken?
A: I don’t know exactly. I was told they were taken prior to move-in.
Q: Would that be a year before move-in? Two years before move-in?
A: I’m not sure. I don’t know the exact date.
Q: How do you know the pictures are of the unit in question?
A: Management told me.
Q: Have you ever been inside the rental unit?
Q: So you wouldn’t know if these pictures are of the interior of the actual unit in question? These could be pictures of any rental unit for all you know?
A: I was told they were pictures of the unit in question.
Q: But you don’t know for sure?
A: No, I don’t know for sure.
You can begin to see why it is critical that someone must have personal knowledge of the evidence to be presented to the court. Courts want reliable testimony about issues that are central to the case.
Plaintiffs must present reliable testimony in support of their burden of proof.