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Can I file the case if I’m not the property owner?

Filing an eviction on behalf of the owner?

I am often asked by people whether they can file an eviction case on behalf of a parent, grandparent, or an out-of-town property owner. These individuals are not trying to mislead the court or pretend to be someone else; they want to act on behalf of the owner because it would be more convenient for them to handle the case.  Unfortunately, the plaintiff (the named party) in an eviction case must be the property owner.

Say, for example, that Anne Smith owned the property, but that her daughter Beverly Smith appeared in court on behalf of the mother during the court date. The judge would say, “Are you Anne Smith, the property owner?” When Beverly Smith said, “No, I am not, but my mother could not get off of work today,” then the judge would say, “You cannot proceed for your mother without an attorney.”

While this may be burdensome, it’s only fair. The landlord certainly would not want the tenant to keep sending other people to court to ask to reset the case, or to try to present second-hand testimony.

But what if I have a Power of Attorney form?
A power of attorney is a little misleading, because it does not allow a person to practice law without a license, which is what Beverly Smith would be doing if she filed the case, presented the testimony for her mother, and tried to obtain a judgment and possession against the tenant. However, a power of attorney agreement does allow the person (the “attorney-in-fact”) to stand in the place of the property owner (the “principal”) to negotiate an out-of-court settlement, to accept rent, or to otherwise act on the owner’s behalf.

Filing an eviction on behalf of the owner may upset this guy

Does the property owner always have to appear in court then?
Not necessarily – just because the case has to be filed in the name of the property owner, a local property manager, employee, agent, or others can still provide testimony on behalf of the owner, as long as the owner has hired an actual attorney and this person is familiar with the books and records. It will not matter whether this person witnessed the interaction between the tenant and landlord firsthand, as long as he or she limits the testimony to the unpaid rent records.

If the owner wanted to present testimony that only he or she witnessed, then he or she should plan to appear in court. For example, if the owner had an argument with the tenant over smoking marijuana in the premises and wanted to present this testimony during the trial, then the owner should plan to attend. There is no scenario where another person can say, “The property owner told me to say …. ” because that is inadmissible hearsay. It is always a good idea for the actual attorney to speak with the property owner if the basis of the contract breach is something other than failure to pay rent.

So how does an actual attorney help?
If an attorney is hired, he or she can then say, “Your Honor, I am appearing as the legal representative of Ms. Anne Smith, the property owner, and I would like to call her daughter Beverly Smith, who is familiar with the books and records in this case, as my witness.” In this scenario, the judge will allow the daughter to proceed on her mother’s behalf, because she is now acting through an attorney.