Going to court for a housing case — either as a landlord or a tenant — can be a confusing and intimidating experience for anyone without a legal background.
“There’s a guy wearing a robe, who’s ordering people around,” joked District Judge Bruce Boni, as to why people in court sometimes get flustered or nervous.
Mr. Boni, a district judge for McKees Rocks and Stowe, was speaking Monday at one of a series of forums organized by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts to help both landlords and tenants better understand the court process.
Don’t expect his court to be be like a television courtroom drama, he advised.
The money owed in eviction cases is often small, but the consequences can be huge
Rather, it should be a civil discussion between both sides, even though it can involve highly charged and emotional matters such as someone losing a place to live.
“It’s not a forum for a shouting match,” he said.
The vast majority of people who appear before him in housing cases do not have attorneys, Mr. Boni said, and that is common in eviction cases.
“Our purposed here today is, in part, to demystify the court, and the court system, and the legal process that is involved in settling landlord-tenant disputes,” Mr. Boni explained to nearly 40 people gathered Monday at the office of the nonprofit Focus on Renewal in McKees Rocks.
Such cases can involve potential monetary judgments and potential evictions.
Mr. Boni reviewed everything from filing fees, to what documents to bring to court, to what to expect when you show up, to appeals.
He also fielded questions about security deposits, court interpreters, and how much notice needs to be given before evicting a tenant.
An analysis last year by the Post-Gazette found many eviction cases are decided as quickly as a matter of minutes, often without the tenant present. Many eviction cases go to court over small amounts of money, the newspaper’s analysis found.
A representative from Neighborhood Legal Services, which represents low-income individuals, was also available to answer questions.
“I hope people leave armed with our handbook, lots of information, and just feel more empowered,” said Maida Milone, president and CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. The event was one of several; they are funded by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and The Pittsburgh Foundation.