Small Claims Court

"Could you please explain to me exactly how her piano teaching damaged the oven? Did she bake her piano students?"

We didn't want to sue our landlord. We really didn't. We just wanted him to give our security deposit back.

We began to think it was a case for Judge Judy. When your former landlord wants to charge you for exposing the garden hose to light, you gotta figure that Judge Judy would eat him up.

What we weren't expecting was that we would find our very own Judge Judy in Small Claims Court right here in San Francisco. There wasn't any audience, and he wasn't quite as funny, but he was certainly wonderful.

Before the judge heard our case, we exchanged everything we intended to use as evidence. Tony and I showed our former landlord, Art, our massive binder full of information. I love office supplies and this was a perfect opportunity to make that work for us. Our evidence was organized into 8 separate sections, each clearly labeled. This took a lot of time to put together but I we wanted to do it right. It included a gigantic, lovely periwinkle binder with  lay-flat rings. Did I mention that I have a thing for office supplies?

Art gave us a half-inch stack of papers including our lease and copies of his ridiculous letters to us.

The judge called us forward and asked if we had exchanged our evidence.

"Yes," we all replied.

The judge asked us to give him anything we wanted to use as evidence. I handed him the periwinkle binder. He looked a little annoyed. I think its sheer size was daunting. Art handed him the papers he'd shown us AND a large stack of photographs.

"Excuse me, your honor," Tony very politely interupted. "We haven't seen any of those photographs."

"I thought you said that you had exchanged evidence," the judge shot back.

"We did," Tony and I replied in unison.

The judge glared at Art.

"Are you planning to use these as evidence?" the judge grilled him.

"Uh, well, yes."

"Why didn't you show them to the plaintiffs?"

"Um, well, I thought that..."

"Get out of here and show them the photographs." The judge was not amused.

This was looking good. Art had already shown his true nature. It felt delicious.

We looked at the photos. Art wanted to narrate the slide show. We asked him, politely, to keep quiet.

There was only one that I couldn't figure out. It was a photo of the lower half of a wall.

"What's this?" I asked him.

"That's the missing doorstopper," Art replied. "And the damage that the missing doorstopper caused."

OK. That was one electrifying photo.

We went back in and the judge heard our case. Art's main point was that we had somehow defrauded him by not telling him that I was a piano teacher before we moved in. Since his parents lived next door to the house we rented, it was ridiculous to think that we wouldn't have told him. But he lied. He said that he had no idea that I was going to move a piano in and teach. Kind of strange, since my occupation was listed as "Piano Teacher" on the rental application. But I digress.

This piano teaching, he asserted, had somehow caused incredible damage to the house. All those people, coming and going. His father testified, too, to the coming and the going.

What I think Art hadn't counted on was that those people, the same ones who kept coming and going,  would write letters on our behalf. That was part of the reason the binder was so big. The letters were so numerous and lengthy that I couldn't count on the judge reading them all. I just highlighted things so he could page through and see,

"In my opinion, the manner in which this landlord is conducting himself with respect to the termination of the lease is petty, greedy, and unethical."

"I have never known the Hidy/Smith family to be anything other than dependable, responsible and considerate. The landlord's failure to reutnr the deposit to the Hidy/Smith family seems unreasonable and unethical."

"Over the years we have come to know her well, and thinks of her as, not just the piano teacher, but a valued friend."

"I know her to be a hard-working and responsible person with a well-cared for family and home."

"I have found her to be reliable, conscientious, hardworking and honest."

"I cannot help but view any charges of neglect or damage levied by the landlord as unwarranted."

"I attest to their honesty, reliability and decency. I can attest without reservation to her integrity, diligence and excellence as a teacher, a friend, and a member of our community; she holds herself to the highest standards both personally and professionally."

They went on like that, each one warming my heart as they came in the weeks leading up to the court case. Even if the judge ruled against us, having a Blue Monday file full of those letters would comfort me any time I felt unloved or unseen.

But you know what? The $3,549.49 is going to feel just fine too.