By: Deborah D. Davis
Of the many calls that I receive regarding landlord-tenant disputes, key recurring questions and themes appear. I wanted to address these common questions for you to review before determining whether the Dickson Davis Law Firm may assist you with your landlord-tenant issue.
I invite you to also refer to the following page for additional information and the law surrounding the landlord-tenant relationship:
Some key issues you need to consider before calling the Dickson Davis Law Firm about your landlord-tenant dispute, and most of these issues relate to residential landlord-tenant issues (but some apply to both residential and commercial landlord-tenant disputes):
- With all landlord-tenant disputes, the Dickson Davis Law Firm will ask you to fill out the online Landlord-Tenant Dispute Form (click to fill out online form) for additional information;
- The first thing the Dickson Davis Law Firm will ask you is whether you have a copy of the lease, and to send the same to the attorney for review as part of your consultation;
- The second thing the Dickson Davis Law Firm will ask of you whether a pending eviction is in process, of which you will need to go to the South Carolina Case Search (click to learn more), select your county, and enter your name to see if litigation is pending against you regarding the landlord-tenant dispute;
- The tenant will be responsible to pay rent for the premises for the time the tenant remains in possession of the premises at a minimum;
- If the tenant abandons the premises, then the tenant is at risk for the landlord accelerating the terms and conditions of the lease (or paying rent for the time the tenant was in possession of the premises) unless other circumstances are present such as constructive eviction, physical ouster, wrongful denial of essential services, and so forth;
- If the tenant is experiencing issue(s) unrelated to the non-payment of rent, then he tenant must notify the landlord in writing of any issue(s) that are the landlord's responsibility to repair and maintain pursuant to the lease agreement, or South Carolina law, giving the landlord fourteen (14) days to ameliorate the issue(s) (or a reasonable time thereafter), or the lease will be terminated by operation of law;
- A landlord may not forcibly evict a tenant from the premises such as changing the locks to the premises or physically removing the tenant's property from the premises;
- A landlord may not access the premises without providing advance notice to the tenant pursuant to the terms and conditions of the lease or South Carolina law, which prohibits checking the tenant's mail, entering the premises in non-emergency conditions, and so forth that interferes with the tenant's quiet use and enjoyment of the premises;
- A landlord that wishes to sell the premises while a tenant still occupies the premises must follow the correct procedure for terminating the lease pursuant to the terms and conditions of the lease or South Carolina law because the tenant has the right to occupy the premises until the end of the lease term or tenancy period, however, the landlord and the tenant may mutually agree upon modifying the terms and conditions of the lease or work out a mutually beneficial arrangement to accommodate both parties in the change in circumstances for the landlord's need to sell the property provided that reasonable minds prevail;
- A landlord that has the premises on the market to sell the property while a tenant occupies the premises must take care not to infringe upon the tenant's right to the quiet use and enjoyment of the premises when showing the premises to future, prospective buyers of the property;
- For prospective buyers of homes when the property is currently occupied by a tenant, the buyer of the property stands in the shoes of the landlord and must abide by the terms and conditions of the lease agreement or follow South Carolina law with respect to providing tenants adequate notice to vacate the premises before taking possession of the property;
- A property manager who is both the agent for the landlord and the real estate agent to sell the property may present a conflict of interest and a breach of fiduciary duty to the landlord, as the owner of the property, when listing the property for sale to prospective buyers and leasing the property to prospective tenants to double-dip on commissions paid for both selling the home and rental income from property management fees for leasing the same property;
- If a landlord wishes to terminate the landlord-tenant relationship and have the tenant vacate the premises, then the landlord must provide any notice of default, notice to vacate, or notice of termination of the lease that is in compliance with either the lease agreement or South Carolina law to be valid or the landlord may be liable for wrongful eviction among other causes of action (and please note that a notice of default does not terminate the lease or the landlord-tenant relationship);
- If the tenant no longer remains on the property, for whatever reason, the tenant should provide the landlord with the tenant's forwarding address for purposes of receiving notices, refunds of security deposits, and so forth, however, if the tenant obtains legal counsel, then legal counsel may act as the forwarding address on behalf of the tenant;
- The landlord must resort to the judicial process to evict a tenant as only the magistrate (or circuit) court holds the power to forcibly remove a tenant from the premises, or one appointed by the court such as a sheriff's constable, and, a landlord that engages in bullying behavior to intimidate or threaten tenants to vacate the premises without resorting to the judicial process will be exposed to liability for various causes of actions;
- Only the magistrate (or circuit) court has the power to remove a tenant, or the Tenant's property, from the Premises with all notices from the court that will be mailed or delivered by a court official, or sheriff's constable, and any landlord or property manager that falsely asserts this notice as a legal notice from the court is exposed to liability to falsely asserting the authority of law and fraud and misrepresentation;
- If the tenant has received a Rule to Vacate or a Show Cause from a magistrate court, the tenant will need to appear before the magistrate court within ten (10) days of receiving that notice from the court to schedule (or re-schedule) a hearing, and it is highly recommended that the tenant should obtain legal counsel at this point to make the necessary arguments before the court to preserve the record in the event the tenant needs to appeal the magistrate's decision;
- Because South Carolina does not offer any expungement procedures for a writ of ejectment from South Carolina public records for tenants, tenants obtaining legal representation before a writ of ejectment is issued against the tenant is important to maintain the tenant's ability to find housing elsewhere as a writ of ejectment may operate to blacklist tenants from renting elsewhere when that landlord, or other property management company, share similar information with other landlords and property management companies through proprietary reporting tools;
- If a tenant has already received a writ of ejectment filed against the tenant, the tenant may have very few grounds to challenge the eviction after-the-fact, and the tenant must move quickly within five (5) days thereafter to file a notice of intent to appeal (depending on the circumstances) or a preliminary injunction to stay the eviction for the tenant to plead the tenant's case before the magistrate.
Pricing for the Dickson Davis Law Firm
- Landlord-tenant issues are time-sensitive, and the Dickson Davis Law Firm does not handle last-minute emergencies, hence, you will need to be proactive concerning your landlord-tenant case that allows adequate time to prepare your case before the Dickson Davis Law Firm will accept your case;
- The Dickson Davis Law Firm charges a flat fee of $3,000.00 to handle landlord-tenant from start to finish before the eviction process has started, or after the eviction process has ended, in magistrate court (if your case falls within the jurisdiction of magistrate court), of which the Dickson Davis Law Firm offers a monthly payment plan of 30% down as the deposit, with the remaining balance due over the next five months;
- If the eviction process has already started, the Dickson Davis Law Firm charges $300.00 per court appearance, $1,500.00 to file a preliminary injunction and appear at the hearing, and $1,500.00 to file a notice of intent to appeal within five (5) days of a writ of ejectment being issued against the tenant and appear at the hearing;
- If your landlord-tenant issue also involves personal injury claims, which are really the predominate part of your case, the Dickson Davis Law Firm will take your case on a contingency fee basis, and address the landlord-tenant issues within the scope of your personal injury claims;
- If you cannot afford the Dickson Davis Law Firm, you may qualify for legal services from the South Carolina Legal Services, and in many cases the Dickson Davis Law Firm may refer you to the South Carolina Legal Services (click to learn more) if you cannot afford to hire an attorney as the South Carolina Legal Services provides pro bono legal services in many landlord-tenant disputes.
Thank you for your interest in the Dickson Davis Law Firm. I hope you find these issues helpful to best direct you as to whether the Dickson Davis Law Firm may be a right fit for you in your landlord-tenant dispute.
Deborah D. Davis, Esq.
Dickson Davis Law Firm, LLC
By: Deborah Dickson Davis, a member of Team Posner
Three simple principles exist in the new movement addressing the rise in pro se litigants. First, the failure to recognize the dynamics behind the rise in pro se litigants undercuts the very fabric of our legal system and the legal profession. Second, the failure to acknowledge the public’s myopia with respect to the legal system and the legal profession is to be obsolete. Third, the failure to acknowledge one’s need to be heard, with or without a guiding hand, is to perpetuate a miscarriage of justice.
From a simple, business perspective, one must know one’s audience: the legal consumer.
The misperception that the pro se litigant cannot afford to retain an attorney is not the primary factor for the growing sector of unrepresented pro se litigants. Well-educated, savvy individuals and small business owners are facing the gauntlet of the legal system alone—by their choice. Of many factors, several reasons readily explain this growing trend: (1) the pro se litigant is not satisfied with the attorneys with whom that person has consulted; (2) the pro se litigant cannot afford an attorney; (3) the pro se litigant is dissatisfied with the process in general; or, (4) the do-it-yourself (“DIY”) consumer trends in the marketplace has shifted into the legal profession. The various motivations for the DIY legal consumer, as a whole, attribute to the rise of pro se litigants.
Whatever the reasons, and whoever is to blame, for the current state of the public’s myopia of the legal system and the legal profession is irrelevant to a certain point. The myopia exists. The damage to the legal profession and the legal system is already done. Any attorney with boots on the ground dealing with real people every day will confirm that these observations are no surprise. Jaded individuals within the legal profession is now commonplace after living with handcuffs in the form of high cost of entry into the legal profession, the lower return on investment from higher education, rules constricting the ability to assist prospective clients with a limited scope of engagement, and the financial reality of accepting or declining cases from a cost-effective perspective. And, those once-idealistic-altruistic attorneys compete alongside with those firms and attorneys engaging in very unethical practices from a consumer advocacy standpoint.
From a simple, public relations perspective, now is the time for damage control, and the legal profession must respond in kind. The rise in pro se litigants is only climbing. Taxpayer money deserves to be well-allocated within the legal system to handle this rising trend for the DIY legal consumer. The legal profession must evolve and adapt to the new legal consumer—not cling to a viscous cycle of mistakes simply because of the amount of time and resources invested into making a mountain out of a molehill.
More than likely, comparing the cost to the legal system from the rise in the pro se litigants with the costs of funding ancillary programs for either pro bono services or consultation services by legal professionals in civil litigation may actually expose the exponential, hidden costs of wasting taxpayer money in the present state of affairs with the actual administration of the legal system in the current adversarial model. Standing alone, the mandatory requirement of mediation to ease the burden of judicial administration in certain cases is a major indicator of the hidden costs facing the judiciary system as a whole. Much scholarship exists on the Access to Justice movement for further information, a movement that is part and parcel to a bigger issue at hand.
At present, Richard Posner has taken a strong stance to address the rise in pro se litigants, and seeks to create a team of like-minded individuals to turn his vision into a reality: Team Posner. Whether one agrees with Professor Posner’s views, Professor Posner being one of the most brilliant, legal minds of our era is, arguably, undisputed. Team Posner is in the brainstorming phase to roll out a national program to address this issue. Likeminded individuals who want to put force and momentum behind this movement are welcome to inquire further.
Many people do not like change. Many visionaries are often criticized and regarded as brilliant or insane throughout the course of mankind’s elastic relationship with innovation. Ingenuity does not come from conformity. Because of Professor Posner’s stature, the media will undoubtedly respond in kind with much predictable, criticism from all directions. And, he can handle it—as only someone of his stature can.
One prong of the public myopia is that the legal profession is viewed as a self-protectionist profession. Those within the legal profession, whether professors, judges, or attorneys, who view this proposed change as a threat to the legal profession fail to see the forest from the trees. In reality, pro se litigants are not hiring attorneys. That is the whole point. The real issue facing the legal profession is, when the market of pro se litigants vastly outnumbers the market of paying clients, whether the legal profession will respond in kind to accommodate this DIY legal consumer or become obsolete. Either the legal profession can figure it out, or the will of the people can by cutting the Gordian knot and changing the nature of the legal system.
The misperception of too many attorneys in the profession is misplaced. Perhaps, and more accurately stated, the pool of attorneys compared to the pool of paying clients is disproportionate compared with the barriers of entry into the legal profession. And, the demand for legal services is not diminishing. The supply of legal services is the problem. The legal profession is not capturing the full market share of legal consumers. Many attorneys are declining those cases because either the prospective client cannot afford the attorney or the dispute itself does not warrant the cost of hiring an attorney. An entire market of unrepresented legal consumers is on the rise.
Just liked an unbanked class of consumers exist within the financial sector, an unrepresented sector of consumers exists within the legal sector. The ingenuity of Professor Posner’s vision is to create a way for the legal profession to cater to this unrepresented legal consumer and help decrease the overall burden on the administration of justice. Professor Posner’s vision is a win-win for all involved. When viewing the forest for the trees upon a mountaintop, the rise of pro se litigants is a major epidemic facing the legal system presenting significant, hidden costs for taxpayers. Further research efforts need to be devoted to that price tag.
To be clear, Professor Posner’s vision is not a threat to the legal profession. The proposed solution is not in competition with maintaining attorneys as a profession and attorneys’ ability to make a living. No competition exists when the legal profession is not adequately servicing the unrepresented legal consumer, or choosing not to do so for whatever reasons. While being an attorney is about being a public servant, the high cost of entry into the profession creates an untenable situation to provide pro bono services or accept cases that are not cost-effective to both the attorney (or firm) or the client’s best interests. The guiding hand needs help to do so. Likeminded individuals and organizations are encouraged to inquire further about sponsorships and funding for this program.
Finding creative opportunities to service unrepresented legal consumers opens the door for the boots on the ground to give legal aid where aid is needed most without being handcuffed to do so. Whether funding this movement in the capacity of providing pro bono counsel to pro se litigants, serving as co-counsel to the pro se litigants, or lobbying for pro se litigants, forming public-private partnerships will be most beneficial to join forces and create new opportunities within the legal profession for the legal profession to adjust accordingly.
In a legal system where one must pay to play, what happens when people stop paying? If the legal profession does not evolve, and become part of the solution, someone else will capitalize on increasing the market share of legal services provided to this untapped, ripe market of DIY legal consumers. Just google pro se online to see a wealth of resources for pro se litigants. The market always finds a way to adapt around the rules and regulations held in place favoring self-protectionism. Consumerism is fluid, and will exert pressure over time like running water icing over the crags of a mountain.
Unfairly characterizing Professor Posner’s vision from a self-protectionist viewpoint merely exacerbates the public’s myopia with the legal profession protecting its own interests—and not the interests of the people, the legal consumer. Rather, more should be done by way of statistical analysis to drill down on the issues mentioned before. Real people have real problems and need real help. From the jaded to the obscure, those within the legal profession speaking on this issue often fall upon deaf ears. Professor Posner merely speaks for all of us lost in obscurity because he has a louder megaphone standing on the mountaintop.
At issue, the rise of pro se litigants deals with an undercurrent that stands on a precipice of exploding the foundations of our legal system and the legal profession. In reality, the law is so overly hyper technical and convoluted that the guiding hand—the attorney—needs a guiding hand. For the determined pro se litigant willing to take on the legal system alone without formal, legal training, what brave souls.
When someone of Professor Posner’s stature cries foul about pro se litigants, the litmus test indicates change is coming as the avalanche nears. This issue is more than just having access to justice. Access to justice does equate to receiving justice; miscarriages of justice may still occur. One’s need for a right to be heard is not just a substantive right under our Federal Constitution. The need is also an emotional one grounded in principles of fairness and respect when resolving disputes. Like a mountain climber facing a choice to cut the rope to save others’ lives, the legal profession needs to cut its losses for our rights and freedoms to survive in the long run.
The rise of pro se litigants is merely a symptom. The public’s myopia with the legal system and the legal profession is a call to action. For those of us who love the law, cherish the rights and freedoms of this great nation, we must honor the profession that we endeavor to serve. A need for attorneys will always exist. However, the manner in which we serve must evolve to enforce or defend our rights for all involved. The guiding hand cannot reach out when handcuffed by Gordian knots.
At issue is due process, both substantive and procedural due process when enforcing or defending one’s rights and remedies. At the heart of the matter is human dignity.
To unveil the mystery of the criminal legal process in general terms, imagine that you are eating at a restaurant in a common, everyday dining experience to illustrate this process.
The head chef, who is also the restaurant owner, has two sous-chefs, kitchen tasters, servers, dishwashers, busboys, hostesses, prep cooks, line cooks, restaurant managers, and so forth working in the restaurant. The head chefs oversees all meals being prepared and served to diners.
One of the greatest challenges for the head chef running the restaurant is delivering consistent quality when serving the diners the restaurant’s menu day after day. By contrast, in the courtroom, whether justice is served is relevant to whether diners keep eating at that restaurant.
One of the main purposes of having a formal legal process is to avoid disorder and chaos by individuals taking the law into their own hands to seek vengeance for actual or perceived wrongs done to them by others. In translation, justice is rooted within the public confidence in the criminal justice system by the faithful, consistent application of the law in a non-discriminatory, impartial manner. In theory.
In reality, cynicism often plagues the public confidence and sense of justice in the criminal justice system like the leftover fish left in the trash overnight that makes the restaurant reek the next day.
Whether justice occurs, and the truth prevails, is similar to whether you are eating at a great meal, an average meal, or a bad meal in the restaurant. Justice has been served: a great meal. The truth remains unknown: an average meal. Somewhere in between justice served and the unknown truth: a bad meal. A bad meal leaves a bad taste in the mouth because a miscarriage of justice has probably occurred.
Just because the restaurant doors stay open does not necessarily mean that the food is great—or justice is being served. Open doors just means that business carries on as usual.