As covered in the previous post, if the summons and complaint are answered then the landlord cannot prevail without a show cause hearing (for residential tenancies) or trial. The show cause hearing is set by the motion of the landlord. The court then will issue an order for the tenant to appear and show cause why the court should not grant the landlord a writ of restitution. This order must be served on the tenant at least seven days before the hearing.
The purpose of the show cause hearing is very limited. The court is only looking at two main issues. First, who has right to possession of the property? Second, what money judgment should be entered, if any? The landlord, or his attorney, gets to present his case at the hearing first. Then the tenant has an opportunity to argue why the landlord is not entitled to relief. Finally, the landlord has an opportunity to rebut the tenant’s argument.
Generally speaking, if the landlord has a correct reason for evicting the tenant (e.g. non-payment of rent, not complying with a lease provision, etc.) and he has done the process correctly (e.g. served the correct notice, properly served the summons and complaint, etc.) then he will most likely get the writ of restitution and a money judgment for past due rent, attorney’s fees, and court costs. If this happens, then the court action is over and the landlord gets the writ issued by the court clerk, delivered to the sheriff, and prepares for the sheriff to execute the writ. The sheriff will post the writ on the property and schedule the eviction with the landlord for a certain day and time. This date cannot be earlier than the fourth business day after the writ is posted.
However, there are two possible results if the landlord does not prevail at the show cause hearing. First, the court might find the action defective and outright dismiss it. If this happens, then the landlord must start the case over again with at least a new summons and complaint. The landlord may also need to serve a new notice.
Second, if the court neither rules for the landlord or for the tenant at the show cause hearing, the court will set the case for a trial. In which case, the trial will be set in thirty days. Sometimes, instead of sending all issues to trial, the court will decide that the landlord is entitled to recover the property at the show cause hearing, but set the case for trial to determine how much rent is owing.
It is important for a tenant who is faced with an unlawful detainer show cause hearing to obtain legal assistance if at all possible. Very few tenants have the knowledge or skills to evaluate the strength or weakness of their case. An attorney can evaluate the case and help the tenant negotiate for a better outcome than they otherwise might get from a hearing. Legal resources for tenants who cannot afford an attorney include the CLEAR hotline and the Housing Justice Project. In Snohomish County the Housing Justice Project is at the county courthouse on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from 10:15 to noon.
For a landlord, a willingness to negotiate just before the show cause hearing is also wise. It is often better for a landlord to give a tenant a few more days to move out in exchange for the tenant not contesting at the hearing even if the landlord is sure of his success in the hearing. First, it’s rare for the sheriff to actually carry out the eviction at the earliest moment possible, so the landlord is often only giving up the possibility of an earlier eviction. Second, it’s more expensive and time consuming for the landlord to have to carry out the eviction than if the tenant moves out themselves. Furthermore, if the tenant is facing the possibility that all his stuff could be on the street in a matter of a few days he might use the property storage request form which then mandates the landlord to bear the upfront cost of storing the tenant’s property.
This is the final post of my short series on unlawful detainer. This has been an overview only. If you are involved in an unlawful detainer action and need representation or have questions then I encourage you to contact me.