You have the right to represent yourself in court. This is called pro se, meaning "on one's own behalf." Many tenants have been successful on their own, especially on matters related to security deposits, small claims, and some bad conditions cases.
The court system, however, is complex, with special rules about court procedures, what papers need to be filed, and what evidence is acceptable. The purpose of this chapter is to give you some basic information about the court system.
If you can find a lawyer to represent you, you are almost always in a better position to use the courts. Certain types of legal claims may also make it easier to find a lawyer to represent you when the law requires the other side to pay your attorney's fees if you win your claim. For example, the following types of legal claims provide for attorney's fees if you win your case:
- Breach of Quiet Enjoyment,
- Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices,
- Violation of the Freedom of Information Act.
See Chapter 14: Taking Your Landlord to Court for descriptions of the first three claims, and Chapter 16: Getting (and Preventing) Access to Information for the last claim.
A list of lawyer referral services and legal services offices, which represent low-income tenants, is in the Directory. You may also want to ask a tenants' rights organization or people you know for names of lawyers who represent tenants.