If you decided that you want to stay and try to force your landlord to make repairs, then now may be the time to file your case. We have created an online tool that will help you put together all of the paperwork you will need. You may have already used this tool to draft a letter to your landlord and may have already created your paperwork. If you don’t want to use our online tool, your local Magistrates Court should have forms that you can use to file your case.
Most cases like this are filed in the Magistrates Court. These courts usually hear landlord-tenant cases and lots of people go to Magistrates Court without a lawyer. You can find contact information for your local Magistrates Courts here.
If you think you should get more than $7,500.00 in damages from your landlord, then you may want to consider filing your case in Circuit Court. But be aware that a case in Circuit Court is more complicated and usually takes longer to resolve. If you used our online tool to create forms to file, those forms also may not work in Circuit Court.
You should really consider talking with an attorney before filing a case in Circuit Court. If you don’t have a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (800) 868-2284 to be referred to one. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you can call South Carolina Legal Services at (888) 346-5592 or apply online to see if you qualify for free legal help.
Step 1 – Get Your Paperwork in Order
If you used our online tool, then you should have everything you need to file your case. You’ll need your complaint and, if you’re using one, your application to have the filing fee waived.
You’ll need to take your paperwork to the Magistrates Court in the county where the home you’re renting is. You can find a listing of Magistrates Courts here. Most counties have several Magistrates Court offices, so you may want to call ahead and find out which office you should go to.
Step 2 – File Your Case
You should make at least one copy of the paperwork you are going to file. The court staff should stamp your original and stamp your copy so that you have proof of when the case was filed. Court staff should also give you a case number.
The filing fee for a case like this is $80.00. This includes the cost of having the Sheriff’s Department try to serve your landlord. If you’re asking for that fee to be waived, then a judge should review your application and decide whether to waive the fee. If you don’t ask for a waiver, or if you do and your request is denied, then you will have to pay the filing fee at the time you file your case.
Once your case is filed, the court will issue a summons. You should ask for a copy of this for your records.
Step 3 – Have Your Landlord Served
Most of the time, the Court will get the Sherriff’s Office to do this for you. But, there sometimes you will have to do it yourself. For example, if your landlord doesn’t live in the same county you do or if they live out of state.
If you have to serve your landlord, one way is to contact the Sherriff’s Department where they live. The Sheriff’s Department or City police department usually will serve documents for a fee. You can also contact a process server, though this will usually cost more than getting law enforcement to do it. You can also serve your landlord by sending the summons and your complaint to them by certified mail. You will have to send this “restricted delivery” which costs a little bit extra. The risk with trying to serve your landlord this way is that if your landlord refuses the letter or doesn’t pick it up, then you’ll have to try and serve them another way.
Unfortunately, you can’t serve your landlord yourself! Service has to be done by someone who is over 18 and is not a party or an attorney in the case.
Step 4 – Wait
Once your landlord is served, they will have 30 days, not counting the day they are served, to file an answer. If the Court is getting the Sheriff’s Department to serve your landlord, you should check back with the Court a week or two after your case is filed to find out if, and when, your landlord was served. Then, you will know what their deadline is to file an answer. An answer is just a response to the things you put in your complaint.
Whether your landlord answers within 30 days or not, the court should set a hearing sometime after that 30 day period runs.
Step 5 – Getting Ready for your Hearing
This is where the things we discussed in the Gathering Evidence section should pay off. If you followed the tips in that section, you should have most of what you need for your hearing.
You will need to print out any pictures you took and put any videos you have on a disc that you can give to the judge. You usually won’t be able to use any evidence that is on your phone because the judge will need to have copies that he can put in the case file. You don’t want to have to leave your phone with the judge! You should make extra copies as well so that you have at least one copy for the judge, one for your landlord, and one for your records.
You will also need to bring any witnesses that you want to testify with you to your hearing. You may want to consider asking the court to issue a subpoena to the witness. A subpoena is an order requiring a person to come to court on a certain day and time. If the person doesn’t show up, especially if they don’t have a good excuse, they can be held in contempt and fined or jailed. One reason to have a subpoena issued is that, if your witness doesn’t show up, the judge can reschedule your hearing. If your witness doesn’t show up and you didn’t have a subpoena issued, then the judge doesn’t have to reschedule. Subpoenas can be useful if you’re asking someone from code enforcement to come testify or if you’re not sure whether your witness will show up. You should let the court know as soon as possible if you want a subpoena. The fee to have a subpoena issued and served is $13.00. You will also need to offer to pay the witness $25.00 plus mileage to cover the cost of showing up in court. You can get more information on how to have a subpoena issued from your local Magistrate’s Court.
You should obviously think about what you want to say to the judge as well! You want to be able to show 1) that there are serious problems with the home you are renting, 2) that your landlord knew about them, 3) that your landlord didn’t fix them within a reasonable time, and 4) that you have been harmed by all of this. When you’re testifying, you normally can only talk about things that you have personally seen or heard, not things that someone else told you. One exception is that you can sometimes testify about what your landlord told you because they are part of the case and can admit or deny saying things when they testify.
You also want to be able to say clearly what you want the judge to do. For example, if you want the judge to order your landlord to make repairs, you should be able to say specifically what repairs are needed and why. If you want the judge to say that your landlord owes you money, you should be able to explain why that is.
You should think about what questions you want to ask your witnesses if you have any. Those questions should be about proving the things listed in 1-4 above.
You should also think about whether you want to ask your landlord any questions. For example, if you sent a letter to your landlord by certified mail and they signed for it (and you have the signature card), but they deny receiving your letter in court, you may want to ask your landlord whether the signature on the signature card is theirs and maybe compare it to the signature on your lease if they are similar.
Step 6 – The Hearing
A couple of simple, but very important tips for your hearing day – 1) get a good night’s sleep and 2) plan to show up early. You’ll be glad that you’re rested and ready when your hearing starts!
The judge will usually start the hearing by asking the parties to introduce themselves and by saying some things on the record about the case, like the case number and who the parties are. Usually, the next step is for the person who filed the case (called the “Plaintiff”) to present their evidence. This is when you get the chance to testify yourself and present your other evidence. Sometimes the judge will ask each side to summarize their case before they get started (sometimes called an “opening statement”)
If you testify or if you bring any other witnesses who testify, your landlord or your landlord’s attorney has the right to ask them questions as well.
Once you’re done presenting your evidence, the judge will usually give your landlord a chance to present any evidence they have. Just like when you were presenting your evidence, you should be given a chance to ask your landlord questions or ask questions of any witnesses your landlord has testify.
Once your landlord has finished presenting evidence, the judge might ask each side to give a “closing argument”. If you’re asked to do this, you can simply summarize the evidence and testimony you presented and let the judge know what you’re asking for.
After this, the judge may make a decision right away or take the case “under advisement” meaning they will let you know what their decision is later.