Despite restrictions across the country due to the global pandemic, justice continues to be served. Virtual court hearings have taken the place of traditional proceedings, and while it will be an unnatural experience for many, they must be treated with the same level of respect.
As a landlord, one of the risks that you sign up for is litigation. The moment that you list your rental property, you become vulnerable to a variety of lawsuits. Whether it’s an applicant suing for discrimination or a violation of the Fair Housing Act, you must be prepared to defend yourself in front of competent authority.
We’ve put together some useful tips for dealing with virtual hearings in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic:
Set Up Your Account
Virtual hearings should be treated like regular hearings. This means that if you are required to participate in the hearing, you should appear — no excuses. Telling the judge that you won’t be able to join because you don’t know how to use Zoom, or any other video conferencing software, is unacceptable.
Before the hearing, you should receive a notice from the court informing you of the schedule of the hearing. They should also indicate the type of video conferencing tool that will be used. Whether it’s Zoom, Google Meet, Cisco Webex Meetings, or other applications, be sure to set up your account at least a day before your hearing.
Other individuals who are required to attend the hearing must also set up their Zoom account in advance. This may include your accountants, property managers, attorney/s, and so on.
Test the App
If this is your first time using Zoom, Google Meet, etc. be sure to learn how to use it before the hearing. Not all video conferencing tools have the same user interface and features. You should familiarize yourself with them to prevent technical delays during the actual hearing.
Once you’ve set up the application on your smartphone, desktop, or tablet, ask a colleague to schedule a “test meeting” with you. Use the time to acquaint yourself with the app’s features, such as mute/unmute, video on/off, and so on. Check your microphone and camera to see if they’re functioning. Check your device if it has any scheduled software updates — run or postpone those updates if there are any.
Find a Private Area in Your Home
Virtual hearings, just like regular hearings, are private and confidential. Only participants who are authorized to attend should be able to hear and see the things shared during the hearing. Hence, you must look for a private area in your home or office where you can attend the hearing away from the prying eyes and ears of others.
Ideally, you should find a place that is free from background noise (e.g., television, traffic, people talking) and has decent lighting. If possible, wear noise-canceling headphones and position yourself in front of a plain background.
A virtual hearing is still a court hearing. This means that the proceedings are serious and should be treated with the utmost respect.
One way of showing your respect to the court is by dressing appropriately. As a rule of thumb, wear the attire that you would otherwise wear at a “real” court hearing. For instance, you may wear a blazer over a collared shirt, or a long-sleeved shirt with a plain colored necktie. While it’s unlikely that you will be standing during the hearing, you may want to dress your bottom half appropriately — just in case!
Keep Your Documents By Your Side
In a regular hearing, you will not be able to exit the courtroom whenever you want to. The same goes for virtual hearings. When the court hearing has started, you should keep your video on at all times and not move away from the screen. The court may not allow you to stand up to retrieve documents relevant to your case.
This means that you should prepare all of the relevant documents and keep them within arm’s reach. Consider placing them next to your computer, laptop, etc. so that you can easily refer to them when needed.
Make Sure Your Connection is Stable
Ensure that you have a stable internet connection. Anything above 25 MBPS is recommended. Having a reliable signal ensures that there won’t be any lag during the hearing. It also allows you to hear everything that is said, especially instructions from your attorney or the judge. This lets you refute any claims that the adverse party might make.
Additionally, don’t forget to fully charge your device before the hearing. If possible, keep a portable charger or power bank with you, as hearings can go on for hours.
What to Expect in a Virtual Hearing
Your attorney (or your property management company’s team) will discuss the case with you before the hearing. They will walk you through what to expect and what to say, should you be asked to say anything.
On the day of the hearing, the judge will likely begin by making sure that every person required to attend is present. The non-appearance of one party may result in the dismissal of the case, except in certain circumstances. The judge will also go over the procedures of the hearing, so if it’s your first time attending one, there’s no reason to worry.
Everyone’s face will appear on the screen as this allows the judge to see each participant and to identify who is speaking. Just like a regular hearing, you should not interrupt anyone — especially the judge. If there is lag or delay, you can request the speaker to repeat themselves.
Keep in mind that the judge may restrict chat features during the hearing. This means that you will not be able to communicate with your attorney or property manager within the app. This is why it is crucial to meticulously go over the facts of the case before the hearing.
Virtual hearings can be intimidating, but as a landlord, you need to know how to deal with them should you find yourself in legal trouble — even if you aren’t at fault!
If you have any questions, get in touch with the property managers at Luxury Property Care. We have an in-house team of attorneys who are prepared to offer their sound legal advice. But most importantly, through our industry-standard practices and knowledge of tenant-landlord laws, we will make sure that you are never the party at fault.