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Advice on preparing for court

Posted by Andrea on November 12, 2001 at 15:21:18:

Our ex-landlord is taking us to the local magistrate (Pittsburgh, PA)in a couple of days, and I am looking for advice on how to prepare, as I have never been in a courtroom before.

To make a very long story as short short, our landlord is seeking money for last month's rent and damages to the apartment. We are counterclaiming for our deposit, and also punitive damages.

Our landlord has been harassing us since the day we moved in. She routinely entered our apartment when we weren't home, to do things like hang curtains and even moved our furniture once because she thought the furniture was too close to the wall. She took a plant of mine and planted it in the yard. She called me and home and at work many times to complain about noises. We were never late once on the rent.

Eight months after we moved in, she told us we had 30 days to move out, or we would be evicted. I basically called her bluff, since she had no grounds to evict us. She gave us a list of how we were breaking the lease, which included, not turning the lights off, having boxes too close the the water heater, etc. She later called us to her apt. and apologized, saying that she made everything up.

60 days before our lease ended, she gave us a termination notice. She then left us a note saying that she was no longer handling matters with the apartment, that we were to call her husband for everything. She and her husband are separated. We called her to make final arrangements for payment, etc. She then went down to the police station and filed a harassment complaint against us for calling her. I went down to the magistrate to see what I could do about getting out of the lease, since we were now in a hostile situation. The magistrate could not do anything, since we were not claiming any monetary damages. He told me I could not pay last month's rent, and let her take me to court, and then plead my case.

Due to the circumstances, we wanted to move out as soon as possible. We left 1/2 month early. We asked the husband if we could pay 1/2 month's rent, and let him keep our security deposit (1 month's rent).
He refused, and didn't know anything like when our rent was due, how much it was, etc.

Now she is suing us for last month's rent, and she has added another $700 in damages to the apt. Most of this includes painting the entire apt., which was unnecessary. We moved out at 11:00 p.m. at night, and she had the locks changed the next day. We were not able to clean the apt., and she is charging us for that as well. She refuses to deduct our security deposit from the damages, as she is claiming we did not leave a forwarding address and forfeited our deposit. After she tried to evict us, I asked her in writing for the name and address of the bank holding our security deposit, a request that she is legally bound to provide according to our lease. She said she it was in her savings account and she did not have to put it in an escrow account. She told us many times about her money problems (she does not work), and I seriously doubt that she still has the deposit.

Here's the killer: She has been in and out of the hospital for severe depression and suicidal tendencies. She is on anti-depressants, and we strongly believe that this is the cause of most of her behaviour towards us. She also told us that much when she tried to evict us.

How do I convey this to the judge without making personal attacks against her? And how do I possibly give him a condensed version of what happened? Are there certain strategies I should use?

Any advice would be appreciated.


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