How to fight eviction and stay in your apartment or house
Understanding tenants’ rights and how the law protects you
By Barbara Craig, Attorney at Law
Has your landlord given you a written notice? Serving notice upon you is the first step in the process of evicting you from your apartment or house, and is something you should take very seriously.
What does a notice to pay or quit mean?
A written notice to pay your rent or leave (“quit”) the property can seem intimidating. But it doesn’t mean that your landlord is angry or threatening you. California state law requires that the landlord issue a notice in writing and specifies the format and wording of the notice. So don’t take it personally and don’t panic. But you do need to act immediately, because you have a limited amount of time to take action.
Talk to your landlord right away to see if payment arrangements can be made to correct the problem. Do whatever you can to get caught up on your past-due rent as soon as possible. Your landlord’s primary interest is collecting the rent, and it is cheaper and easier for them to accept the late payment than it is to take you to court. While most landlords will try to work with you, they are not required to accept partial payments or any payment made after the deadline of the notice.
Understanding other types of notices
While failure to pay the rent on time is the leading cause for a written notice, there are other reasons a landlord may try to evict you. If the landlord believes you have violated terms of the lease agreement, especially if those violations are repetitive and ongoing, they may decide to take action. An example would be loud noise coming from your apartment or house, especially if it leads to complaints from your neighbors and/or your landlord has previously warned you about it.
When you signed a lease to rent your home, you agreed to all the terms and conditions included in the lease. If you do not abide by the lease terms, the landlord may have cause to evict you. Therefore, it is important to do your best to live up to your end of the agreement, just as you expect the landlord to do the same.
When should you get a lawyer?
If you want to stay in the property, and you are unable to address the landlord’s concerns by either paying the past-due rent, working out a payment arrangement, or taking other actions as the landlord requests, it is time to seek the advice of an experienced landlord-tenant law attorney.
An attorney will review the facts of your case, including the original lease agreement and all written notices you received, to make sure your landlord has followed the law. Because California law is complex, many times landlords are not in full compliance with the law, and may be infringing on your tenants’ rights as provided by the law. Your attorney is a powerful advocate in your corner, and will help make sure you are treated fairly.
What happens when a landlord takes you to court?
In an eviction (the legal term is “unlawful detainer“) proceeding, the landlord requests a court of law to issue an order to remove the tenant from the rental property. More often than not, the action is brought because the tenant will not or cannot pay the rent as agreed.
You will be served with court paperwork summoning you to answer the landlord’s complaint and defend yourself against the landlord’s allegations, if you wish. Never ignore a court summons! In an unlawful detainer action, you have five days from receipt of the summons to file your answer or request more time to file an answer. Failure to do either will cause a default judgment to be entered against you. In that event, you will have to move out and you may also be found liable for the unpaid rent.
If you choose to fight the lawsuit, a trial will be held in front of a judge, and the landlord will present evidence that you have not fulfilled your responsibilities under the lease agreement. You will be given an opportunity to defend yourself or to have an attorney present your defense. There are several possible arguments against eviction. For example, the condition of the property may justify non-payment of the rent. Or, the landlord’s eviction complaint against you may not be valid due to procedural errors.
An experienced landlord-tenant law attorney can figure out your best defense and advise you as to the strength of your case. If your case or potential defenses are not very strong, your best course of action may be to negotiate a settlement with the landlord with the assistance of your attorney. Otherwise, if your landlord wins in court, a judgment will be entered against you and the landlord will get a court order (writ of possession) for the Sheriff to evict you. It is better to avoid this outcome because the eviction might show up on background checks and may make it more difficult to rent property and obtain credit for years to come.
How will the court rule?
Evictions are procedural cases, which means if your landlord has not closely followed the requirements in the California Civil Code and the Code of Civil Procedure, you can fight and sometimes delay the action, and stay in the property longer than that landlord wants.
The most common reason that eviction cases are dismissed is because the landlord failed to follow the rules for serving notice to the tenant. If a written notice is not served or the notice is defective – a legal term which means that the notice did not comply with the format and/or method of service required by law – the landlord cannot take the tenant to court until a proper notice is served.
If your defense is strong enough to win the case, the court will rule against the landlord’s request to evict you. But even if you win, you should plan on moving as soon as you can. Eventually, your landlord will correct the technical mistakes in the case or find another reason to try to evict you, and the process will start all over again. There are other tactics you can use to extend your stay in the property. But the ultimate result won’t change, as you cannot stay in a property indefinitely if the landlord really wants you out.
Do you have questions about your rights as a tenant under the law? Have you been served with a written notice or a court summons by a landlord who is trying to evict you from your apartment, town home, house, or other rental property? Contact Landlord-Tenant Law Attorney Barbara Craig to schedule a consultation and get a powerful advocate on your side. Serving clients in the South Bay area including Torrance, San Pedro, Lomita, Harbor City, Carson, Wilmington, Long Beach and other nearby communities.
Photo courtesy sldownard