In some places, issues regarding housing, including building code violations and landlord/tenant disputes, are addressed in housing court. The structure of a specific housing court, along with the types of cases it hears, depends on local law and the specific policies of the court. For example, some housing courts exclusively hear civil cases regarding landlords and tenants, while others may address criminal housing issues, such as illegal evictions or maintenance negligence on the part of landlords and owners. Not all countries or localities have housing courts, however, and in the United States a special housing court may exist only in certain jurisdictions. In areas that do not support housing courts, housing issues are often heard and decided at county or other local courthouses along with other cases.
The purpose of a special housing court is often to expedite the process of eviction. In many areas, including all of the United States and United Kingdom, landlords are not at liberty to simply eject tenants, even when tenants fail to pay the rent, engage in illegal behavior, or damage the rental unit. Tenants are entitled to due process before being forced to leave their home, even if their landlord sustains financial or other losses in the process. Since landlords have this vulnerability, the eviction process in many jurisdictions is fairly quick, moving more rapidly than other civil cases normally do. A dedicated housing court, with judges and court staff who specialize in housing issues, can both protect the interests of the tenant while helping landlords regain access to their rental property.
Some housing courts hear criminal cases. Typical criminal cases that may end up in a housing court include those involving a landlord's failure to properly maintain a building or home. While simple violations don't normally mandate a criminal charge, there are cases in which a landlord willfully neglects to maintain basic safety standards. These violations can harm his tenants or even pose danger to residents of the wider community. In such cases, local officials may bring criminal charges against the landlord. Cases involving poor maintenance may also be resolved as civil cases between tenant and landlord.
Landlord-tenant mediation services may be provided by a housing court. In mediation, tenant and landlord disputes can be negotiated through the services of a trained mediator. The mediator may even be empowered by the court to negotiate a legally binding resolution. The advantage of mediation for both landlord and tenant is that they can avoid going before a judge in housing court and having their case recorded in public records. This can be particularly helpful to tenants who are behind on rent, as they will not end up with a judgment or eviction on their credit or tenant screening reports.