I had a landlord who I believe owes me money for several things. The two biggest would be prorated rent and the return of damage deposit. Since I shared a kitchen with this landlord, it is out of the scope of the RTA. This means I would have to take the case to small claims or Civil Resolution Tribunal (because my claim will not exceed $5000).

It is my understanding that such courts are designed to be easily accessible and not intended for lawyers. Several things happened during my tenancy that may make me entitled for damages, but I'm not sure and not sure how much. Therefore I am thinking hiring a lawyer may be a good idea? Some examples of how I think the landlord broke the law in a way I may be entitled damages to:

  1. he entered my private room without notice (admittedly because a repair man needed to see a pipe though he knew the repair man was coming)
  2. he wanted me to move out with only 1 weeks notice and threatened to physically remove my belongings and change the locks if I don't
  3. rented out a shared storage space to an extra tenant who he made a profit from

Is this something a lawyer would help win damages for? Are these even called damages? Unfortunately I didn't have a formal lease, but did have a single email exchange outlining all expectations. It never specified things like like how much notice was needed for landlord to terminate tenancy (though 1 week is just ridiculous).

Part of why I ask this question, do lawyers every say you probably wouldn't be able to win? This would seem bad for their business because they want you to hire them beyond their initial consultation.

  • The other problem is that in some small claims courts you cannot recover attorneys fees. You may end up with very little award to speak of after court costs and attorneys fees. Small claims is specifically designed so you can appear pro se to avoid these extra costs.
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 2:22
  • Yes, lawyers do tell people they probably won't win. See here law.stackexchange.com/questions/37349/… for a question from someone who's lawyer was telling them to go to the small claims court on their own. Commented May 26, 2019 at 14:02

2 Answers 2


Lawyers are useful in litigation the way engineers are useful construction or doctors are useful in surgery

The know what they’re doing and have done it many times before: you haven’t.

In your particular situation your lawyer can advise you if you actually have a case worth pursuing and the best way to do so. In most jurisdictions lawyers cannot represent you in small claims court but they can handle your application and coach you in advance.

As to your final question: lawyers are professionals and it’s frankly insulting to suggest that a professional would deliberately mislead for personal gain - the overwhelming majority won’t and the tiny fraction that will are criminals.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 0:20

How does a lawyer help when taking someone to court for money owed?

In theory, by highlighting any merits of your position and identifying the legal theories under which your viable claim(s) can be remedied. That assistance supposedly should help you make an informed decision on whether or not to bring legal proceedings.

That being said, many lawyers are likely to ignore your inquiry because the amount involved in your controversy suggests low profitability. That is a legitimate consideration which many professionals are entitled to ponder. But, in turn, you also need to assess how much integrity prevails among lawyers and judges in your jurisdiction. The first link (pertaining to the U.S.) in my comment should prompt you to think twice whether you want a lawyer or instead see your dispute as a legitimate opportunity to gain some exposure to (and first-hand experience in) legal proceedings.

The unequivocal comment that "you don't have a case worth pursuing" is inaccurate. Unless your email or factual circumstances indicate otherwise, recovery of the unearned rent seems to be your most viable claim in this issue. The specifics of your case and of your email exchange will be relevant for determining the extent (if any) to which you are also entitled to recovery of the damage deposit as well as pursuant to items 2 and 3.

The absence of a formal lease is partly irrelevant because the "email exchange outlining all expectations" constitutes an explicit contract. That email exchange evidences that the parties entered an agreement knowingly and willfully toward an exchange of considerations. That is what matters in contract law.

Being out of the scope of the RTA does not pre-empt the application of contract law. The RTA inapplicability means that any arguments premised on the RTA are --at most-- advisory, but not binding, toward making a ruling on the case.

You mention that the email "never specified things like how much notice was needed for landlord to terminate tenancy. However, it is possible that the wording of that email exchange reasonably (if not explicitly) evidences a meeting of the minds regarding termination notices.

As an example, somebody recently posted a question thinking that his contract did not specify a cornerstone item. After posting here some excerpts of his contract, it turned out that the item truly was specified in that contract. That OP had just been inadvertent about that favorable language in his contract. Likewise, the email in your matter might be such that it favors you in a way that currently goes unnoticed by you (for instance, by virtue of contra proferentem).

I am not knowledgeable of Canadian law, but generally speaking the purpose of laws is not ritualistic. This is why I highly doubt that you would have any remedies regarding the first item. The landlord's unannounced entry in your room does not seem to have caused you any harm.

On the other hand, the reimbursement of unearned rent appears to be the most direct remedy available to you under contract law. I would say these are the two extremes of the spectrum in your matter. The rest is hard or impossible to assess without first knowing the details of your dispute & contract.

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