Can I win in small claims court?

by admin on March 24, 2011

I’m in the state of Michigan. I want to know if I have a shot of winning in small claims court if I sue the mobile home park where we live. We have a "lease to own" agreement. In short, they purchased costly homeowners insurance for my place supposedly because I didn’t have any (but I did, and I can prove it). I want to sue them for the insurance they double charged me for, plus a large administration fee and the refund of a late fee that I would not have incurred were it not for their outrageous charges and the fact that they apply payments toward fees first.

We’re required to have homeowners insurance, which we do. I gave proof when I moved in (Sept 2009) and again when I switched insurance companies (sometime in mid-2010). The office recently put a notice on our door to get homeowners insurance or pay a fine, but it had the neighbor’s address on it. I called them to let them know they’d put the notice on the wrong door; the lady said someone would pick it up, but no one did. The next month I got another notice on my door, this time with our address on it, stating that this is a final notice to get homeowner’s insurance. This was in January when I went down to pay the February rent, so it was in late January 2010 that I learned that they thought I didn’t have homeowner’s insurance. I told the office that the "final" notice was my first notice because the other one had the neighbor’s address on it so they would need to give me more time, but I would get some kind of printout from the insurance company.

Less than 2 weeks later, on February 7, they purchased a policy for our mobile home. The first I heard about it was when I went to pay the March rent; I was told I had to pay 09 for the homeowner’s insurance, plus 0 administration fee, and then my lot rent, house payment and water bill. I grabbed my money orders back (for the house payment, lot rent and water bill) and said, "I can’t give you that much money! I would have to use this to move tomorrow!"

I went and got proof of insurance and brought that back. They canceled the policy but still made me pay for one month of their insurance coverage (0.75) plus the administration fee (0) and there was a late charge as well () because they took the money orders I had for our normal bills with them and applied them first toward their fees, and I couldn’t pay the rest until the March 9th. I can prove the mobile home was continuously insured for the entire disputed time. The office lady claimed that notices are not put on doors and that everything goes out through the mail. We only received one notice by mail and that was a notice sent sometime in February that the policy had been purchased. The lady points to a pile of duplicate letters in a folder as if that’s proof that notices are sent out. I don’t think that would hold up in court – wouldn’t they need proof of delivery, unless I admit that something was received? Because much of what she says they mailed, they did NOT mail.

Someone said they thought that what the office did is illegal. Does anyone have an expert opinion?

Lastly, if they win can they make me pay for their legal fees for court? The owner of the park is an attorney so no doubt there would be lots of legal fees to be paid if so. I cannot afford a lawyer, but I’m not in the mood to be steamrolled for 0.75 either, so I would be representing myself in small claims court. Please tell me I have a prayer. These people prey upon everyone here because no one can afford to fight back. No doubt they’ll find a way to get back at me, but I still want to win the 0.75 back.
I didn’t get the insurance paperwork back to them the second I realized they needed it, that’s true; however, this was a few days before February, and they purchased the policy on the 7th. It isn’t fair that I didn’t have proper notice. Everyone else got over 2 months notice. I thought I had more time; we have a newborn at my house, life is crazy… but I should have had more time to respond.

At this park, there are people who have no insurance and they aren’t bothered by the office. There are people with heaps of garbage, old appliances and dog crap all over their yard and they’re not bothered, but we have a neighbor with a neat and tidy house and yard that set one trash bag outside of his door and went to get the other one, and in that short time got a fine of for the first bag. Nice, no? He wasn’t leaving it there – he was taking out the trash! There’s a lot of dishonest stuff going on. Not only does the owner seem to be perhaps doing some less than honest dealings; he


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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    Tiffany K March 24, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    I think you stand a really good chance in court. It all depends on what you can document, since the burden of proof would be on you. But, they also can’t just say they mailed the notices to you and not provide proof of delivery, unless you admit to receiving them.

    The best thing about small claims court is that it’s a minimal risk. It doesn’t cost much to file, neither party can add on attorney fees (or any kind of lost work compensation or anything else not directly related to the case, for that matter, since nobody gets ‘punished’ for filing a case), and so long as the person filing isn’t acting with obvious malice or intent to harass, the worst case scenario is usually walking away in the same position you were in before, with the added small expense of filing the case. So, it’s worth it to do, if you have even a reasonable amount of documentation, witness statements, or anything along those lines.

    Graybeard March 24, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    If you can document what you’ve said here, you should indeed win. They would have to pay the court costs.

    Dottie R March 24, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Why didn’t you take them a copy of your insurance in Jan. (like you did later)? Then you would have avoided all these extra fees as well as they wouldn’t have had to get the separate policy.

    I don’t think you would have much luck in court.

    Little Princess March 24, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Do you have the original notice with the incorrect address still? If not, it would be a he-said she-said kind of argument. Was there a proof deadline listed on the final notice indicating when they would buy the insurance for you?

    The policy they bought should be fully refunded since it effectively never was in force as you already had underlying insurance. A $150 administration fee sounds a little bit excessive. What does your purchase agreement say with regards to how much they can charge? Normally they can get away with a high premium insurance because they don’t bother shopping around. But if they’re expecting you to pay $150 for them to administer the purchase of insurance, the rate they were able to find was again really excessive. For that premium rate, I would guesstimate a reasonable administration fee of $10 to $20. But again, it would depend upon what your purchase agreement calls for.

    Normally, in small claims court, claiming for attorney fees aren’t allowed (for either side). As long as you’re not tagged as a person who files nuisance lawsuits, you wont be responsible for paying anything beyond your court costs and whatever their administration fees, etc., but nothing should be added to it.

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