Even though evictions are called "summary" proceedings, they do require preparation. There are many things that can occur at an eviction hearing. The South Carolina Supreme Court has approved a set of limited Instructions for people involved in an eviction lawsuit. You can view these Instructions by clicking on the file at the bottom of this Lesson.
Most importantly, you must prepare your case. Preparing your case means (1) knowing what you want to argue and (2) preparing your evidence.
Preparing your arguments
Before going to court, you should write down an outline of what you are going to argue. If the landlord claims that you did not pay rent, write down what your defense to this claim is, such as you did pay rent or the landlord allowed you to skip one month and catch up later, etc. If you have more than one defense, write them all down so that you do not forget to mention them to the magistrate court. We discussed in a prior Lesson how you can include your defenses in a written response (or answer) to the Rule that you file with the magistrate's court within the ten days after you get served with the Rule. Some courts may require a written answer. But even for those that do not, putting down on paper what you want the magistrate court to know and taking that paper to court with you can help you focus your presentation. You do not want to spend time talking about things that are not relevant to the case. That will only try the magistrate's patience, which is never a good thing.
For example, suppose that the landlord files to evict and accuses you of having an unauthorized occupant living with you. If your lease does not require you to get the landlord's permission to have a roommate, you will need to have a copy of your lease to be able to show the court that the lease does not prohibit this. You will not want to spend time talking about how the landlord is rude or unkind to you or how you heard that another tenant had a guest over for a long time without a problem. You want to focus on your case.
Preparing your evidence
Preparing your evidence is also very important. You must be ready to prove your defenses to the magistrate court. And if you file a counterclaim, you have the obligation to provide enough evidence to prove your counterclaim. The court will not investigate your claims if you do not offer evidence to support them. Your evidence will either be (1) testimony or (2) documents. Your testimony evidence will either come from you or from any witnesses who testify on your behalf. If you plan to testify, take some time to think about what you need to say in order to prove your defenses. For example, if the landlord claims that you breached your lease by letting someone live with you, and your defense is that the landlord knew about the guest and allowed the guest to stay, then you will want to testify about how the landlord knew about the guest and what the landlord did to indicate that he or she was OK with the guest being in the unit. The more precise you can be with dates and conversations, the more credible you will be. If you plan to have a witness testify, be sure that the witness goes with you to court. Also be sure you know what the witness will say. If the witness says something that hurts your case, you're stuck with it. If the witness refuses to come to court, the magistrate court can subpoena the witness. You should ask the magistrate's court to subpoena a witness at least ten days before the date set for trial. Review Instruction #9 in the Instructions at the end of this Lesson for more details about having a magistrate court subpoena a witness.
Finally, as part of your preparation, be sure to have any documents that you can get your hands on documents that support your defenses. If the landlord claims that you did not pay rent, and you did, you should make photocopies of your receipts, cancelled checks, bank statements showing where your rent came out or where you withdrew money to pay the rent. Or if the landlord claims that you had a pet in violation of a "No Pets" rule in your lease, but you have texts where you mention your pet to the landlord and the landlord says he or she is OK with the pet, then print out screenshots of the texts or photograph the texts one by one and then print out the photographs. Bring these documents to court with you. The magistrate will not look at documents or photos on your phone. You must print out whatever documents you want the magistrate to see. Often people will show up at court for a final eviction hearing and tell the magistrate court that they have documents that can prove what they say. But if they have not brought the documents to court, they are of no use. The magistrate court likely will not allow you to go get the documents and bring them back after the final hearing.