The effect of a judge finding a party in contempt of court can be very different depending on the circumstances. If the party in question is a deadbeat parent who hasn’t paid their child support, the result may be jail time. On the other hand, if the party in question is your commercial tenant who hasn’t followed the court’s orders for the disclosure of documents, the results may be something very different but highly beneficial to your case. Whether you’re seeking collection of back-owed rent, pursuing an eviction action, or taking some other step against your commercial tenant, an experienced Atlanta landlord-tenant dispute lawyer can help you ensure you’re going about it the right way procedurally.
Last month, we looked at a commercial tenant that was holding over. Today, we consider the proper steps for a landlord whose tenant allegedly didn’t pay rent and refused to cooperate with the discovery process.
The tenant was a college exam preparation business located in a Duluth shopping center. In 2016, the ownership of the shopping center changed hands. Less than a year later, the new landlord sued the tenant alleging that it had failed to pay its rent.
The landlord made a discovery demand for certain of the tenant’s bank records. The tenant didn’t turn over the records, so the landlord filed a motion to compel the disclosure. The trial judge granted that motion, but the tenant still didn’t hand over the bank records.
The landlord’s next step again was the correct one: filing a motion for contempt. At that hearing, the tenant argued “that their banks held the records, not the [tenant], and therefore the [tenant] did not need to request the records from the bank.” This ineffective argument did not sway the judge and the court found the tenant in contempt.
The Court Can Throw Out Some — or All — of the Tenant’s Defenses
Successfully persuading the court to enter a discovery sanction against your opponent can be a huge benefit to your case. The Georgia Code lays out a series of options that trial judges can consider to punish a party that has failed to meet its court-ordered obligations. The court can order that a certain topic in dispute shall be deemed true. Say, for example, you alleged your tenant didn’t pay rent and it said it did. If the tenant refuses to turn over bank records that the judge ordered it to deliver to you, the court can enter an order of sanctions that says that, as punishment, the court will deem it proven true that the tenant did not pay its rent.
Alternatively, the judge can place other restrictions on what the tenant can do in litigating its case. The court can, as a sanction, refuse to allow the tenant to argue an affirmative defense (such as rent abatement due to your alleged failure to repair property damage,) or it can completely strike the tenant’s answer to your complaint. That latter sanction is big because it potentially allows you to win your case on procedural grounds by asking the judge to enter what’s called a “default judgment.”
That’s what happened in this Duluth landlord’s case. The trial judge struck the tenant’s answer in its entirety, and the landlord sought — and obtained — a default judgment in its favor, allowing the landlord to achieve a complete victory without ever having to go to trial.
Achieving success in your landlord-tenant case is about more than just understanding your rights as a landlord, it is about knowing how to go about vindicating those rights through the civil justice system. When it comes time to take on a tenant that hasn’t fulfilled its obligations, the skilled Atlanta commercial landlord-tenant attorneys at Poole Huffman, LLC are ready to help. Whether the issue is non-payment of rent, holding over, destruction of property, or some other contractual or legal violation, our knowledgeable attorneys know to go about protecting your rights. Contact our team online or by calling (404) 373-4008 to schedule your confidential consultation today.