If you’ve received an eviction summons, read it carefully. There might be two parts in your eviction case:
- The actual eviction. Your landlord is asking the court to force you to leave. Sometimes this is called “first cause.”
- For money or damages. Your landlord is asking the court to agree that you owe them money. This is called “second cause.”
If your summons says “second cause,” your landlord is suing you for back rent, unpaid utilities or damages to the home. Here’s what you should do next.
Respond in 28 days
You have 28 days from the day you receive the summons to file an "answer." An answer is a written response to your landlord’s claim that you owe them money.
Your answer must be filed at the clerk of court’s office. You also have to send a copy to the landlord or the landlord’s lawyer, if they have one.
Filing an answer is your chance to deny that you owe your landlord money. If you don’t file an answer, the court might agree with your landlord and give them a "default judgement." That means that the court could give your landlord the right to collect money from you.
There are two types of answers you could file:
- A simple answer. This form lets you explain to the court why you don't owe your landlord part or all of the money. Deny all the parts of the landlord's complaint that you think are not true. If you don't deny everything you disagree with in the answer, you won't get a chance to deny it in court. You can also ask for your security deposit back, plus interest, if the landlord wrongfully kept it.
- An answer and counterclaim. Use this form if the landlord owes you money. If you use this form, you are suing your landlord for what they owe you. It has a section where you can explain the reasons that the landlord owes you money, for example:
- You overpaid on rent.
- You made improvements or repairs to the home.
- You or a family member suffered an injury because of something that is the landlord's fault.
Go to the hearing
Your second cause hearing will be a separate hearing after your eviction hearing. Be on the lookout for letters from the court telling you when your hearings are. It is important for you to attend all the hearings that the court schedules.
At the second cause hearing, the judge will ask you and your landlord to explain your claims. You should bring evidence to help you prove to the judge that you don’t owe the money. If you filed a counterclaim, you should also bring evidence to prove the landlord owes you money. Good examples of things that you could bring are:
- Documents that show that you do not owe what the landlord claims. For example, receipts that show that you paid your rent and utilities. Bring original documents and photo copies.
- Photographs that back up your story. For example, photos showing what the home looked like when you left it. If the photos are on your phone, print them out.
- Witnesses, people who saw or heard, in-person, the things that you are telling the court about.