Agent’s Handling of Small Claims Court Complaint

QUESTION: I’m in the property management business. I’ve just been to a CE program and was told by one of the presenters that I could get in trouble with the N.C. State Bar for the unauthorized practice of law if I handled a summary ejectment or past-due rent complaint in small claims court on behalf of a landlord client. Is that right?

ANSWER: We don’t think that’s correct. NC General Statutes Section 7A-223 provides that an agent acting for the plaintiff (i.e., the property owner) can sign a complaint in a  small claims action demanding summary ejectment or past due rent, or both, provided that the agent has personal knowledge of the facts alleged in the complaint. Although  the statute only specifically addresses signing the complaint, the State Bar’s Authorized Practice Committee has taken the position that an agent, acting on behalf of a  property owner, may prepare, sign, file and pursue complaints in small claims court for summary ejectment or past due rent due, if the agent has actual knowledge of the  facts alleged in any such complaints. Note, however, that Section 7A-223 applies only to small claims court matters and not to proceedings before other courts. Should a  tenant appeal a magistrate’s order for possession or an award for past-due rent, it would be a violation of the statutes prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law for an agent without a law license to make an appearance on behalf of a property owner in district court.

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