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How to Represent Yourself in Housing Court
Before your trial...
- Talk to a lawyer if possible
If possible, get a lawyer to help you with your trial. Brief legal advice is available on a first-come first-served basis at the court's Self-Help Center, Monday - Friday, 9:00a - 1:00p, or at the Hennepin County Housing Court Project.
- Read the court order carefully
The Court’s Decision and Order sets the trial date and time. Make sure you get a copy. It may also require you to do certain things. The order may ask you to exchange lists of witnesses and exhibits. Exhibits are the documents and other evidence you want to use at trial. If you do not exchange information on time, the Court may not allow you to use those witnesses and exhibits. Please bring 4 copies of your exhibits to the trial.
- Pay the court-ordered rent on time
If the court order tells you to deposit rent, make sure you do so on time. The clerks will accept only cash or certified funds. Do not bring non-certified checks or money orders.
- Scheduling and continuances
The Court generally schedules the trial within seven (7) days of your first appearance in court. If you want the trial postponed, you must ask the other side and the Court for a continuance. Ask as soon as possible. It is unusual to be allowed a continuance. You may have to ask the Court in writing.
- Begin preparing now for your trial
This is the time to talk to persons who you want to be witnesses, and to decide what exhibits you want to bring to trial. Exhibits are things that you want the Court to look at, such as pictures, letters, leases and reports. You must bring them to court if you want the Court to look at them; the Court does not automatically get reports from other government agencies. Please bring 4 copies of your exhibits to the trial.
The MN Rules of Evidence control what evidence the Court can accept at trial. For example, in general, you cannot use oral or written statements from a person unless the person comes to trial to testify as a witness. This is called the “hearsay rule.” There are some exceptions to it. The rules of evidence are available at the Hennepin County Law Library, located in the Hennepin County Government Center on C-2400.
You can subpoena witnesses or documents to make sure that they appear at trial. You can get a subpoena from the clerk’s office for a fee, but the fee can be waived for persons with low incomes. You need to pay a witness fee of at least $20.00 to witnesses that you subpoena. If you want to use a housing inspector’s order as evidence, you do not need to subpoena the inspector. Instead, you can ask the housing inspector for a copy of the inspection order to use in court. However, if you are claiming that the Housing Inspector said anything that is not noted on the report or to present other evidence, you must subpoena the inspector. If you want a witness, including an inspector, to bring records to court, you must use a subpoena duces tecum to require the witness to bring records. The duces tecum box on the subpoena must be checked and a list of the documents you are requesting clearly written on the subpoena. If you need a police officer to be a witness, ask the clerks for more information.
- Consider discussing settlement with the other side
Most cases end in a settlement. A Pre-filing Mediation program may be an option for you to settle your dispute. A settlement can save both sides time, money and the stress that goes along with having a trial. Either side might win or lose at trial, while settlement might allow each party to get something. The settlement should be in writing so both sides and the Court are clear about the settlement agreement. If you reach your settlement at Court, ask the clerks for a settlement form. The Court will need to review and approve your settlement. See "Settle Out of Court" for more information about other possible options.
Check in at the Housing Court clerk’s office on Floor C-3 of the Hennepin County Government Center, along with your witnesses, at least 15 minutes before the trial is scheduled to begin. If you are not on time for your trial, you may lose your case by default.
At the start of the trial, the Court will explain how the trial will be run. If you have a question, ask it then, before you start presenting your case. The Court cannot give you legal advice. The Court’s job is to independently judge the facts and the law. Everything said once the trial starts is “on the record”, which means that the Court reporter or the recording equipment takes it all down. The only exception is if the Court goes “off the record” or orders something removed from the record. It is your job and your witnesses’ job to prove to the Court what you believe happened, and to convince the Court to rule in your favor.
Never interrupt the other side, a witness or the Court. If you think that the other side is violating the MN Rules of Evidence, you should stand up and say, “Your Honor, I object.” After making this statement, you should explain your objection to the evidence. For example, “that statement is hearsay, because the person who said it is not here to testify.” The Court will give the other side a chance to respond, and then the Court will either grant or deny your motion. If the Court grants your motion, then the other side’s evidence will not be allowed into the record.
Do not bring young children to court. No gum, food or drinks (other than water), are allowed in the courtroom. Water must be in a spill-proof container because of the electronic court reporting equipment. If you need to take medicine, tell the Court in advance. You must treat the Court and the other side with respect. Address them formally, for example, “Your Honor”, “Mr. Smith”, or “the Defendant.”
Yelling, swearing and using abusive language are not allowed. The above inappropriate actions can be punished as contempt of the court with fines and an immediate escort by a court deputy to jail.
The Court may call a recess to let the court reporter or the court clerk rest. If you need a break for a medical reason, ask the Court immediately.
- Who sits at the front tables
Usually, only the parties and their lawyers or other representatives sit up front at the tables in the courtroom. If you want someone else, like an advocate or building manager to sit with you, ask the Court at the start of the trial.You need the Court’s permission before you can walk up to a witness on the stand or the jdge or referee.Ask, “May I approach the witness?” or “May I approach the Bench?”
At the end of the trial, the Court can make a decision in your case right away and you will receive a copy of the order from the court clerk. If the Court takes the case under advisement, the Court will mail you a copy of the order once a decision has been made. Make sure the Court has your correct mailing address. Do not call the referee or judge about your case. If you write the Court, you must send a copy to the other side. Always include your case number on any written communication sent to the court.
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