4th District  

Judicial Branch Home > 4th District Home > Court Administration > Housing Court >

Legal Terms (Dictionary)

We provide this list of legal terms (dictionary) to explain some of the terms and phrases commonly used in Housing Court. If you are looking for at term not listed here, you could visit the Legal Terms resources at our the MN Court Self-Help Center. If you do not understand a term or need legal advice, you should talk with an attorney.


  • Advocate: A person or group that works in support of another’s cause in court There are often Lay Advocates available at Housing court. A lay advocate is someone who is trained in housing law and housing court procedure-but who is not an attorney. A lay advocate can help a tenant understand a case, resolve issues, and help the tenant present the case to the Court.  Rule 603 of the Housing Court Rules allows a lay advocate to appear with a tenant at housing court hearings. Lay advocates are not attorneys.  If you believe you need an attorney, please ask an advocate for help in finding one.
  • Affidavit: 1) Any written document in which the signer swears under oath before a notary public or someone authorized to take oaths (like a Court Clerk), that the statements in the document are true. 2) in many states an affirmation under penalty of perjury, which does not require the oath-taking before a notary, is the equivalent of an affidavit.
  • Affirmative Defense: The defendant denies or admits what the plaintiff says in the complaint and says that there is a justifiable reason.  This happens most frequently when the defendant admits that the rent has not been paid, but raises the affirmative defense of "habitability." The Court will schedule a hearing on the affirmative defense.
  • Amend: To alter or change by adding, subtracting, or substituting. One can amend a written pleading filed in a court action. The change is usually called an amendment.  A pleading can be amended before it is served on the other party, by stipulation or agreement in court between the parties and/or their attorneys, or upon order of the court. See also: amended complaint, amended pleading
  • Amended Complaint:  What results when the party suing (plaintiff or petitioner) changes the complaint he/she has filed. It must be in writing, and can be done before the complaint is served on any defendant, by agreement between the parties and/or their attorneys, or upon order of the court. Complaints are amended to correct facts, add new causes of action (legal reasons for filing the lawsuit), substitute discovered names for persons sued as "Does," or to properly plead a cause of action (the legal basis for suing) after the court has found the complaint inadequate.
  • Amended Pleading: A changed written pleading in a lawsuit, including complaint or answer to a complaint. Pleadings are amended for various reasons, including correcting facts, adding causes of action (legal reasons for filing the lawsuit), adding affirmative defenses, or responding to a court's finding that a pleading is inadequate as a matter of law. Amendments can only be made prior to being served, upon stipulation by the parties, or order of the court.
  • Answer: The defendant may file a written answer, notifying both the Court and the plaintiff exactly what the defendant’s response is to the facts in the complaint. The Court may require a written answer.
  • Attorney: A person who has been qualified by a state or federal court to provide legal services, including appearing in court. Each state has a bar examination which is a qualifying test to practice law.  Graduation from law school does not make one an attorney.
  • Bailiff/Deputy: The uniformed Hennepin County Sheriff's Deputy who "keeps the peace" and is available to deal with any threat to the peace, both inside and immediately outside the courtroom.  If you sense any impending disturbance, let the Deputy Sheriff know.
  • Bond: 1) written evidence of debt issued by a company with the terms of payment spelled out. A bond differs from corporate shares of stock since bond payments are pre-determined and provide a final payoff date, while stock dividends vary depending on profitability and corporate decisions to distribute. There are two types of suchbonds: "registered," in which the name of the owner is recorded by the company and "bearer," in which interest payments are made to whomever is holding thebond. 2) written guaranty or pledge which is purchased from a bonding company (usually an insurance firm) or by an individual as security (called a "bondsman") to guarantee some form of performance, including showing up in court ("bail bond"), properly complete construction or other contract terms ("performancebond"), that the bonded party will not steal or mismanage funds, that a purchased article is the real thing, or that title is good. If there is a failure then thebonding company will make good up to the amount of the bond.
  • Calendar: The calendar is the daily list of all cases scheduled for hearing.  In Housing Court, it is computerized and usually includes notations written by the clerks in the left-hand margin specifying problems in the file.
  • Clerk: The administrative staff person who calls the calendar, organizes the files, keeps track of the cases, and initially identifies certain possible defects in either party’s compliance with the Rules.
  • Complainant/Plaintiff: The party (a person, a partnership, or a corporation) that started the lawsuit by filing and serving the Complaint, Petition, or Affidavit.
  • Complaint: This is the legal document, signed under oath by the plaintiff or her/his authorized agent, notifying the Court and the defendant what facts form the basis for the plaintiff’s eviction action lawsuit.
  • Conciliation Court/Small Claims Court:  Conciliation Court is often called "Small Claims Court." Conciliation Court was created to allow parties to bring their legal claims before the court without expensive costs, attorneys fees, or complicated legal procedures. In small claims court, parties may represent themselves, but an attorney may also be allowed by the judge or referee to participate on behalf of a client. The filing fee is low, there is no jury, the procedure is fairly informal, each side has a short time to present his/her case and the right to appeal only permits a trial de novo (a new trial) at the next court level. Conciliation cases may be heard by referees or judges. Small claims court is a quick, inexpensive way to settle lesser legal disputes, although the disagreements are often important to the participants.
  • Continued or Continuance: A postponement of a date of a trial, hearing or other court appearance to a later fixed date by order of the court, or upon a written agreement of all parties to a case approved by the court or (where local rules permit) by the clerk of the court. In general courts frown on too many continuances and will not allow them unless there is a legitimate reason. Some states demand payment of fees for continuances to discourage delays.
  • Cost bond: A bond given by a plaintiff to ensure payment of court costs, often required for appeals.
  • Costs and Disbursements:  Generally, the prevailing party recovers not only the amount of the judgment but also the costs and expenses of the suit. These include filing fees, government taxes, witness fees, and the like, but not funds spent in the preparation of the case.Many contracts, leases, mortgages, deeds of trust or promissory notes provide that the "prevailing party" shall be entitled to recovery of attorney's fees and costs if legal action must be taken to enforce the agreement. Even if the plaintiff gets much less than the claim, they are  the prevailing party entitled to include attorney's fees in the collectable costs. Usually there is no prevailing party when a complaint is voluntarily dismissed prior to trial or settled before or after trial has begun.
  • Court Reporter: The person who takes down each and every word said in court "on the record" and, when necessary, produces a transcript of what happened at the hearing.

Return to top of page.

  • Defective Service: Unless the specific tasks required for service are done properly, there is defective service and the Court does not have jurisdiction or power to hear the case.  A party may waive defective service by asking the Court to go ahead and hear the case anyway. Without such a waiver, the case may be dismissed.
  • Defendant/Respondent: The party (a person, a partnership, or a corporation) against whom the case is brought.
  • Denial: The defendant simply denies what the plaintiff says in the complaint and asks for a trial.
  • Deposit: An amount of money paid to the court.  Hennepin County Housing Court can only accept cash and certified checks; personal checks, third-party checks, and money orders cannot be deposited with this court.
  • Deputy/Bailiff: The uniformed Hennepin County Sheriff's Deputy who "keeps the peace" and is available to deal with any threat to the peace, both inside and immediately outside the courtroom.  If you sense any impending disturbance, let the Deputy Sheriff know.
  • Discovery: This is when the Court orders each party (each side) to give each other information about the facts before the trial, to avoid surprise.
  • Dismiss: The ruling by a referee/judge that all or a portion (one or more of the causes of action) of a lawsuit or motion is terminated (thrown out) at that point without further evidence or testimony. This judgment may be made before, during or at the end of a trial, when the referee/judge becomes convinced that the party has not and cannot prove their case. This can be based on the complaint failing to allege a cause of action, on a motion for summary judgment, plaintiff's opening statement of what will be proved, or on some development in the evidence by either side which prevents judgment for the plaintiff. The referee/judge may dismiss on his own or upon motion of a party.  The plaintiff may voluntarily dismiss a cause of action before or during trial if the case is settled, if it is not provable, or trial strategy requires  getting rid of a weak case. A defendant may be "dismissed" from a lawsuit, meaning the suit is dropped against that party.
  • Disposition: The court's final determination of a lawsuit, the outcome of the case.
  • Eviction action: A lawsuit brought by a party claiming that she/he has a right to possession and control of identified premises, usually an apartment, and that the other party ought to be ordered out (evicted) from the premises.
  • Evidence: Every type of proof legally presented at trial (allowed by the referee/judge) which is intended to convince the referee/judge of alleged facts material (important) to the case. It can include oral testimony of witnesses, including experts on technical matters, documents, public records, objects, photographs and depositions (testimony under oath taken before trial). Comments and arguments by the attorneys, statements by the referee/judge and answers to questions are not evidence.
  • Expungement: Expungement means sealing the public record of a court action. If your eviction is expunged, then someone searching court files cannot find a record of your eviction case.
  • Habitability: This stands for the affirmative defense, in an eviction action, where the tenant basically agrees that rent has not been paid and states the rent money is being withheld because the landlord is not keeping the premises in good repair or up to code.
  • Housing Rules: These are the Rules that set out some, but not all, of the procedures that must be followed in Housing Court.
  • Initial Appearance: The first hearing in court before a referee/judge. This is similar to an arraignment hearing on criminal cases.
  • Judge: An official with the authority and responsibility to preside in a court, try lawsuits and make legal rulings. Judges are attorneys.  The word "court" often refers to the judge, as in the phrase "the court found the defendant at fault," or "may it please the court," when addressing the judge. The word "bench" also refers to the judge or judges in general. Judges on appeals courts are usually called "justices." Judges of courts established by a state at the county, district, city or township level, gain office by election, by appointment by the Governor or by some judicial selection process in case of a vacancy.  2) to rule on a legal matter, including determining the result in a trial if there is no jury.
  • Judge Request: A written document containing the Housing Court case number and the name of the party asking that their case be heard by a District Court judge instead of the Housing Court referee.  These requests must be filed with the court at least 24 hours before the hearing. 
  • Judgment: The final decision by a court in a lawsuit, criminal prosecution, or appeal from a lower court's judgment.
  • Late Return: This is when the plaintiff does not return to the court, at least three days before the hearing, proof of proper service.  The Court may dismiss the case based on late return.
  • Lay Advocate: A lay advocate is someone who is trained in housing law and housing court procedure-but who is not an attorney.  A lay advocate can help a tenant understand a case, resolve issues, and help the tenant present the case to the Court.  Rule 603 of the Housing Court Rules allows a lay advocate to appear with a tenant at housing court hearings. Lay advocates are not attorneys.  If you believe you need an attorney, please ask an advocate for help in finding one.
  • Mailing and Posting: When neither personal nor substitute service can be accomplished, this third method of service is available.  It is very technical. In summary, it requires two efforts to find the defendant, and also mailing the papers to her/him, followed by posting a copy at the front and rear entry to the premises. Complete instructions for this procedure are available at the Hennepin County Government Center, Housing Court Office.
  • Mediator: A person who conducts mediation. A mediator is usually a lawyer or retired judge but can be a non-attorney specialist in the subject matter who tries to bring people and their disagreements to early resolution through a conference. The mediator is an active participant in the discussions and attempts to work out a settlement between the parties.
  • Mediation: The attempt to settle a court action through active participation of a third party (mediator) who works to find points of agreement and make those in conflict agree on a fair result. Mediation does not always result in a settlement. There are mediators available at most of Housing Court’s first appearance calendars.  See also the entry for Pre-Filing Mediation for ways to save the cost of the filing fee.
  • Money Judgment: A judgment directing the payment of a sum of money.
  • Motion: A formal, written request filed with the court. Motions are made in court all the time for many purposes: to continue (postpone) a trial to a later date, to get a change made to an order, for dismissal of the opposing party's case, for a rehearing, or for dozens of other purposes. Most motions must be written.  However, during a trial or a hearing, an oral motion may be permitted by the referee/judge.
  • Motion to Dismiss: A motion by the defendant, prior to trial or during trial, to dismiss the case due to claimed defects or flaws in the plaintiff’s pleadings or based on the facts as they come out at trial.
  • Motion to Quash: This is the request of a tenant that the Court quash, or stop, the writ, usually temporarily until a court hearing on whether or not the tenant has a good reason ("good cause") to not be forced to move.
  • Order: A written decision by the court (referee/judge) that something be done or not done  This can range from an order that a case will be tried on a certain date,  dismiss a case, or many other decisions.  2) for a judge to direct that a party before the court perform a particular act or refrain from certain acts, or to direct a public official or court employee (like a sheriff) to take certain actions such as serving court documents or removing tenants from a property.
  • Plaintiff/Complainant: The party (a person, a partnership, or a corporation) that started the lawsuit by filing and serving the Complaint, Petition, or Affidavit.
  • Pleadings: Shorthand for all the documents filed at Court.  With the Court’s permission, pleadings may be amended or changed at any time.
  • Possession of Property: Control or occupancy of property
  • Power of Attorney/Power of Authority: A written document signed by a person giving another person the power to act in conducting the signer's business, including signing papers, speaking for them in court hearings, and other activities in the name of the person granting the power. The person receiving the power ofattorney (the agent) is "attorney in fact" for the person giving the power, and usually signs documents as "Melinda Hubbard, attorney in fact for Guilda Giver." There are two types ofpower ofattorney: a) generalpower ofattorney, which covers all activities, and b) special power ofattorney, which grantspowers limited to specific matters, such as coming to court on a particular piecerental property.  Apower ofattorney may expire on a date stated in the document or upon written cancellation. Usually the signer acknowledges before a notary public that he/she executed the power, so that it is recordable if necessary, as in a real estate transaction.
  • Pre-filing Mediation: This is a special mediation option for landlords filing eviction actions and tenants filing rent escrow actions in Hennepin County.  Either can request to participate in the program when they come to file their action with the court.  Instead of actually filing the action, they would fill out the court paperwork and a form with names and phone numbers for both the landlord and the tenant(s).  They would also give the court a check for the filing fee and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.  The parties will be contacted by a mediator to arrange a time and place for everyone to meet.  If an agreement is reached, the original court papers and the filing fee check are mailed back to the filing party, saving the filing fee.  There would be no court record either.  If no agreement is reached, the court papers would be filed to begin the court action (lawsuit).

Return to top of page.

  • Prevailing Party: The winner in a lawsuit.
  • Proof of Service: The person who actually accomplished the service must state under oath, in an affidavit of service, that she/he did the proper tasks to accomplish "good service."
  • Quash: To put an end to by formal action or set aside. In law, a motion to quash asks the judge for an order setting aside or nullifying an action, such as "quashing" a Writ of Recovery so that the tenant is not evicted.
  • Referee: A person appointed by the Chief Judge to hear and determine certain cases.  Here, the Referee hears any and all cases regarding housing, including eviction actions, lock-out petitions, tenants’ remedies, rent escrows, criminal Housing Code violations, and emergency relief cases.  All decisions made by a Referee are subject to review by a District Court Judge.
  • Respondent/Defendant: The party (a person, a partnership, or a corporation) against whom the case is brought.
  • Review:  To judicially go over a court file and transcript determining if there were legal errors made by the referee.  The order from a judicial review can affirm (agree with), reverse (disagree with), or modify (change) the original court order.  An affirmation, reversal or modification can be for the entire order or just a part of it. Housing Court has a Notice of Request for Review form available for parties requesting that a District Court judge review the Housing Court referee’s decision (order).
  • Rules of Housing Court: These are the Court Rules that set out some, but not all, of the procedures that must be followed in Housing Court.
  • Service: The process by which someone who is being sued receives copies of the complaint and the summons, telling her/him when to come to court.  In Housing Court, service is most commonly performed by someone who is not a party to the lawsuit by physically handing a copy of the summons and complaint to the defendant; this is called "personal service."  If the defendant cannot be found, service can be accomplished by "substitute service," or by mailing and posting.
  • Short Service: The three methods of service described above each must be completed at least seven days before the first court hearing, but no earlier than fourteen days before the first court hearing.  Short service occurs when the service is completed too late or less than seven days before the hearing.
  • Small Claims Court/Conciliation Court: Conciliation Court is often called Small Claims Court.  Conciliation Court was created to allow citizens to bring their legal claims before the court without expensive costs, attorneys fees, or complicated legal procedures. In smallclaims court, attorneys may not represent clients, the filing fee is low, there is no jury, the procedure is fairly informal, each side has a short time to present his/her case and the right to appeal only permits a trial de novo (a new trial) at the next court level. Conciliation cases are heard by referees. Small claims court is a quick, inexpensive way to settle lesser legal disputes, although the disagreements are often important to the participants. The well-known television program People's Court is intended to be a good example of a small claims court.
  • Stay or To Stay: The Court can determine that the plaintiff/landlord is entitled to a Writ of recovery of premises and order to vacate but "stay the writ" for a certain number of days.  A writ stayed for 10 days, for example, means that the writ can not be issued by the Court Administrator until 10 days have passed.
  • Stipulation: An agreement between the parties to settle all or part of the case without further hearings.  The stipulation must be approved by the Court. If it is approved, it becomes part of the Court’s order.
  • Strike or Stricken: In Housing Court, striken is used as an outcome (disposition) of cases where no one came to court, or where the case was filed, but no affidavits of service were filed with the court.
  • Substitute Service: When the actual person being sued is not personally served, she/he may properly be served by handing the summons and complaint to "a person of suitable age and discretion residing" at the defendant’s home.  Handing the papers to a guest, such as a baby-sitter or a visitor, is not satisfactory.  Handing the papers to a child age ten may not be satisfactory, as that child cannot be presumed to comprehend the importance of a summons and complaint.  Handing the papers to a 17-year-old daughter, however, would probably be satisfactory substitute service, as long as she lives in the defendant’s home.
  • Summary Judgment: Either party can make a motion (a request) that the Court decide the case based solely on the pleadings or documents that have been filed.  The party asking for summary judgment is basically saying that even if you presume that everything the other party says is true, the other party still could not possibly win; therefore, the Court should award judgment to the party making the motion, immediately and without any further hearing. Summary judgment is rare.
  • Summons: The Order from the Court Administrator to the defendant telling her/him to come to court to respond to the Complaint, which must be attached to the Summons.
  • Supersedeas bond: A bond given by an appellant in order to obtain a stay of the judgment awarded at trial and for the purpose of ensuring that if the appellant loses the appeal the appellee will be paid the judgment plus any damages incident to the delay caused by the appeal
  • Transcript: a written copy of spoken or recorded material which is the official or legal copy of a court hearing, also called a court reporter’s transcript.
  • Trial: The examination of facts and law heard by a referee/judge with authority to hear the matter (jurisdiction). Each party is entitled to an opening statement by his/her attorney (or the party if he/she is representing himself/herself), limited to an outline of what each side intends to prove (the defense may withhold the opening statement until the defense is ready to present evidence), followed by the presentation of evidence first by the plaintiff, followed by the defense evidence, and then by rebuttal evidence by the plaintiff or prosecution to respond to the defense. At the conclusion of all evidence each attorney (plaintiff or prosecution first) can make a final argument which can include opinion and comment on evidence and legal questions. The judge will determine legal issues and decide factual questions and render (give) a decision in an order. Throughout a trial there may be various motions on legal issues.
  • Unlawful Detainer/UD: Referred in the past to both the former name of Housing Court and to Eviction Actions.
  • Writ of Recovery of Premises and Order to Vacate: This is the order, issued by the Court Administrator when ordered by the Court, directed to the Hennepin County Sheriff to compel someone to vacate certain specifically described premises, based upon the plaintiff’s successful eviction action.  When executing a writ, the Sheriff personally serves or posts 24-hours notice at the premises.  If the person has not vacated within 24 hours, the Sheriff has the authority and duty to move the person out, by force if necessary.  The sheriff charges a fee to the party requesting the writ, the landlord.
  • Writ of Restitution: Now called Writ of Recovery. See entry for Writ of Recovery of Premises and Order to Vacate.

Return to top of page.

 

« Back to Housing Court Home

« Back to 4th District Court Home