I find myself practicing a decreasing amount of landlord tenant law lately, perhaps because there are enough full-time eviction attorneys out there whose ability to capitalize on economies of scale prevents me from competing on price, but I still find this area of the law fascinating. The Fifth District just issued a decision that touches on an area that has come up a few times lately.
The question is what happens to a tenant's claim in a separate, subsequent suit for damages after an eviction. There is a rule in litigation that basically prevents you from filing suit on an issue that should have already been litigated in another case that you were part of (it's a little more complicated than that, but we'll stick with the general idea here).
In this case, the tenant couldn't bring a separate suit for damages against the landlord because the tenant should have brought the claim as a counterclaim when the landlord sued for damages. It didn't matter that the tenant thought she could still bring the claim after the eviction or even that her eviction attorney didn't tell her that she had to bring the claim as part of the eviction.
Now remember that when we say "eviction" here we are really talking about two things, and they don't necessarily have to be filed together. The first is the actual eviction, i.e., getting the tenant out of the property. The second is the damages award against the tenant. Had the landlord only gone after the first part (getting the tenant out), then the tenant could have brought her counterclaim as a separate case later on. But because the landlord also sought money damages, the tenant was obligated to bring her counterclaim in the same action.
There are a few lessons here, I imagine, but the most important takeaway (I think) is this idea that there is a rule out there that requires that related claims be brought together, and that if you aren't careful, you can be prevented from bringing a claim later on.
Please remember that these posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice. If you are ever in doubt about your rights under the law, you should consult an attorney familiar with the law in your area.
Ben Bauer is a Cincinnati-based attorney who writes about things in law and life that he finds interesting.