One of the scariest parts of landlord & tenant court for most people is actually standing up in front the judge. A lot of things can happen and it moves very quickly. Here are a few tips for preparing to go to DC landlord & tenant court for any type of hearing. If you have a trial or other evidentiary hearing, you will likely need more preparation, this is intended to help get you up in front of the judge with confidence, not get you through an entire trial.
1) Bring your documents and bring a copy. For the initial hearing you need to have the summons and complaint you served on the tenant, the notice you served on the tenant, if that is applicable, the certificates of service for both, and the rent ledger or invoice. Bring a second copy of each document. Then if the judge wants to see the document, you can still have a copy in hand to look at. Keep them organized and looking nice.
2) Know the numbers. When did the tenant last pay rent? If there have been partial payments, when, and how did you apply them? What is the monthly rent? What is the total amount due in rent only? Remember to include the current month. What are the late fees allowed by the lease? What is the total amount due with rent and late fees? Judges get frustrated quickly if you don't know what's due and what you want. If you get the judgment because the tenant skips court you will have to know the numbers to fill out the redemption form.
3) Be prepared to discuss settlement with the tenant and maybe a mediator. Many cases can be resolved on the first court date. If you know what type of payment plan, if any, you would accept, you will be ready to talk and likely get out of court much faster. Don't sign anything you don't understand. I see horrible settlement agreements that are impossible to get out of after the fact.
4) Inspect the property before court and make any necessary repairs. Knowing the condition of the property allows you to respond to any tenant allegations that there are Housing Code violations. It won't get you out of a trial being set for another day if that's what the tenant wants, but it will save you time if you need to set a trial date.
5) Bring a book and a snack and be prepared to be in court for several hours. This is a long process, both in getting to court and each time you have to go.
This isn't fun or easy, but knowing what to bring and what to expect can help you feel less nervous.