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Court offers resources, efficiency to help solve landlord-tenant disputes

The Metropolitan Court and its judges are committed to providing fair hearings and due process to all who walk through its doors. (In the July 19 Journal), there was an op-ed column regarding landlord-tenant cases in the Metropolitan Court, and we wanted to provide some information about the court and its processes.

Landlord-tenant cases are governed by the Uniform Owner-Resident Relations Act, which is a series of laws passed by the Legislature, and by rules issued by the New Mexico Supreme Court. The Owner-Resident Relations Act contains strict and often quick deadlines that protect and affect both tenants and landlords. While many landlord-tenant decisions are made in a relatively short period of time, it would be erroneous to mistake efficiency for a lack of respect for the parties. In order to appreciate why many cases are resolved quickly, an understanding of the caseload and its outcomes is required.

Last fiscal year, more than 12,000 landlord-tenant cases were resolved at the Metropolitan Court. Approximately half of these cases – 6,000 – were dismissed at the request of one of the parties, usually because a resolution was reached. Many of these resolutions were achieved with the court’s involvement or judge’s assistance.

Of the remaining 6,000 cases, roughly two-thirds of the time – 4,000 cases – the tenant failed to appear at the trial. Obviously, when the tenant fails to appear, it’s like a forfeit – the landlord wins automatically and the trials do not last very long.

Of the 2,000 or so cases where the tenants did show up, the vast majority of the time, roughly 70% (of cases), the tenants did not dispute that rent was owed and did not raise any other issues with regard to the property. When there is nothing or little to dispute, the trials are typically not lengthy.

Of the remaining 30% of cases, roughly 600 cases last fiscal year, when there was a dispute, trials lasted a considerably longer period of time. In fact, hearings were often set aside or rescheduled to allow each party enough time to present evidence. When both sides show up and there is a dispute, trials can last for hours. If a party is not satisfied with the outcome of the case, he or she has the right to appeal.

At the Metropolitan Court, we recognize the many challenges, potential difficulties and frustrations that one may encounter when navigating the justice system. As a result, in an effort to deliver information and assistance to anyone unfamiliar with the judicial process, the court makes available to everyone:

1.) A Self-Help Center, where the staff provides information in English and Spanish to self-represented litigants;

2.) Free pamphlets in English and Spanish that describe various legal processes;

3.) Free forms in English and Spanish, and access to computers to print the forms;

4.) Lists of community resource information for organizations that offer assistance and housing resources;

5.) Mediation services;

6.) Free monthly civil legal clinics; and

7.) A place to consult with a Legal Aid attorney.

We at the Metropolitan Court recognize landlord-tenant cases can be challenging and stressful for tenants and landlords alike. These types of cases are often a consequence of larger challenges facing our community.

The Metropolitan Court is a public building and all are welcome to visit to observe the judicial process at work. When provided with a complete portrayal of the law and process, you can see for yourself the fairness and proficiency of the court.