JP Loss Quickest Route to Landlord Eviction Win?
In the eviction world, seeing the “big picture” is critical to success. Almost every landlord pursuing eviction has the same goal: to recover possession of their property by removing the occupants as soon as possible. However, the eviction laws in Texas are such that a savvy tenant or tenant rights attorney can frustrate this objective by simply utilizing (and maximizing) all of the deadlines provided under the eviction laws and rules. To counter this intentional delay, a sophisticated Landlord must recognize that sometimes a J.P. loss is the quickest route to an eviction win.
As I have frequently written and lectured upon, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure governing eviction cases were amended in 2013. Under the “new” Rules, the schedule for an eviction case has been streamlined to provide for a prompt eviction trial date and a limit upon the postponements of trials. The revisions are mostly positive for Landlords, but there still exists ample opportunity for tenants to substantially lengthen the eviction process by employing a litany of procedural maneuvers – all of which are perfectly legal and authorized under the Rules. The most common of the dilatory tools are “jury demand,” “request for continuance,” and waiting until the very last day to file a “notice of appeal” and to pay the “docketing fee” associated with an eviction appeal.
By my calculation, a savvy tenant or tenant’s lawyer can add up to SIXTY (60) DAYS to a standard eviction through the strategic and timely use of the mechanisms set-out in the Texas Rules of Civi Procedure. The chart below depicts some of these mechanisms, their timing, and the legal authority under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure applicable to evictions.
By way of example, let’s assume that an eviction suit has been filed, the tenants have been served, and the Justice Court has scheduled the trial for March 1, 2017. If the tenant files a jury demand on on February 24, 2017 he is entitled to trial by jury. Because most Justice of the Peace courts do not have jury panels slated for each week, the necessity for summoning jurors will usually delay the trial setting for a full week. In our example, this would postpone the trial to at least March 8, 2017.
Let’s say that the Tenant decides to hire a lawyer at this point. Of course, the lawyer (or perhaps even the tenant, himself), will want more time to prepare for a trial. Thus, a Motion for Continuance (postponement) gets filed. Such a Motion can be granted over the Landlord’s objection, so long as the postponement off trial does not exceed 7 days. Thus, with a granted Continuance request, the eviction trial date is set for March 15, 2017.
Trial occurs on March 15, and the jury finds in favor of the Landlord. The J.P. Judge will enter a Judgement of Eviction in favor of the Landlord that same day. However, the tenant has up to 5 days to file an appeal. If the tenant waits until the 5th day, then the Notice of Appeal gets filed on March 20, 2017. Once this occurs, it is up to the Clerk of the Justice Court to prepare the “record” and send its file to the Clerk of the County Court. This process can take anywhere from 3 to 14 days, and in one case we handled took 20 full days. For our example, we’ll assume that the County Clerk receives the record 10 days after the Notice of Appeal is filed in the Justice Court (March 30, 2017).
Upon receipt of the record, the County Court will issue a letter to the Appellant (the party appealing from the J.P. Court — usually the tenant) providing notice that the record has been received, and that the Appellant must pay the docketing fee within 20 days, or the appeal will be dismissed. Thus, the tenant now has a new deadline for his next action: April 19, 2017.
Assuming the tenant pays the docketing fee to the Clerk of the County Court on the very last day, the appeal is finally “live.” Now, the case subject to setting for trial in the County Court upon at least 8 days’ notice. Thus, a trial may be conducted as soon as April 27, 2017.
Under our example, the Tenant has bought almost 60 days in the property without paying a dime in rent. Unfortunately, the scenario described above is not the rare nightmare/doomsday event. Instead, it is somewhat common — especially when a “tenant’s rights” attorney is involved.
We have formulated strategies to counter this intentional delay by tenants and expedite the process of Landlords recovering possession. One of these strategies is “taking a knee” in the Justice Court, and voluntarily accepting a “loss” most times that a tenant demands a jury trial. While accepting “defeat” seems counter-intuitive and is very contrary to our nature as aggressive advocates for Landlord’s rights, this strategy expedites the eviction process and can save our clients weeks worth of time associated with tenant delays.
Many times, we can obtain a trial date in the County Court that is just a few days later than the trial date originally scheduled in the Justice Court.
Landlord, property mangers and owners facing tenants and “tenant’s rights” lawyers gaming the system should consider retaining the services of landlord-oriented eviction lawyers in San Antonio.