The bad news for landlords is that BASTA is still going strong and appears to be growing. Recently, I was in the Downtown L.A. courthouse in Department 94, where all evictions are heard. There was a calendar of 54 unlawful detainer cases and of those 54 cases, BASTA represented 15 of the defendants. That means in almost one out of every four cases, BASTA represented the tenant! That is outrageous.
I have spoken with the BASTA attorneys and asked them how they are getting so many clients and I questioned whether or not they advertised. They said that they don’t need to advertise because now it is all word of mouth. The word is out on the street and tenants are flocking to BASTA because they think that BASTA will get them a good deal and that they won’t owe any money to their landlord.
Over the past year, I have noticed that BASTA has expanded to different L.A. courts. Not only do they appear in Lancaster and Los Angeles, but they also are going to Santa Monica, Long Beach, Pasadena and Norwalk. How do you know if BASTA is on your case? You will know when an answer has been filed on your eviction, as explained below.
Who ARE These Guys??
This article will attempt to explain who BASTA is, what their role is in an Unlawful Detainer Case, and what do you do when BASTA becomes involved.
BASTA when translated into English means “Stop” or “Enough”. BASTA is one of the many tenant unlawful detainer defense firms who litigate unlawful detainers lawsuits for the tenant.
When you call BASTA and you get their answering machine, you are greeted with “If the landlord wants a fight … we will give them a fight”. Sets the tone, right?
What they really should say to landlords is – “If you want to pay us $5,000.00 and waive all the rent owed, we will forgo a jury trial otherwise … we are going to make you spend lots of money to evict your tenant no matter what.”
If you haven’t read the article “How Superman of Renters, Daniel Bramzon revolutionized L.A.’s Eviction Defense Industry” published by L.A. Weekly in December 2014, I advise you to do so. BASTA professes to be the champion of the poor however it is common knowledge that BASTA receives a large chunk of the money that landlords pay out to avoid a jury trial.
Why are jury trials allowed? I can’t tell you how many times a client will ask me that question when they do not want a jury trial. The answer is simple – you don’t have a choice. It is a constitutional right to have a trial by a jury of your peers. BASTA takes this right to new heights by requesting a jury trial for every tenant. Many of my clients ask me whether or not a provision in their lease waiving the right to jury trial will stand up in court. Unfortunately, it will not help you. The court has ruled that the provision is unconstitutional and that you cannot waive a constitutional right.
How Do You Know if BASTA is On Your Case?
Usually, you find out that your case is a BASTA case when they file an answer checking every box on it. The next step is the discovery process. Here you find out that your tenant in most cases is complaining about the habitability of the unit. Watch out for this! BASTA usually will advise the tenant to call the Housing Inspector and complain to a governmental authority. Further, if you happen to be cited, BASTA will have the further audacity to advise the tenants to not allow you access to YOUR RENTAL UNIT to make repairs.
Normally, BASTA will send you a letter with their discovery requests, especially in non-rent controlled areas. In that letter they will say that if you don’t wish to respond to the discovery and would like to settle the case, you can pay the tenant anywhere from $3,500 – $5.000, waive all rent and allow the tenant 60-90 days to vacate. It’s absurd! What can you do as a landlord? The answer is fight back. Serve discovery on them and find their weaknesses and put them on the defensive. Take the deposition of the tenant and make them spend money.
As stated above, whenever BASTA represents a tenant in an unlawful detainer case, they will request a jury trial. The tenant will have filed a Fee Waiver which allows them to litigate the case for free. BASTA, who claims to represent indigent tenants, has their fees paid by grants that they receive from the Federal and State Government.
You are not so lucky. You have to pay the filing fees and your own attorney fees to reclaim your rental property.
BASTA normally will show up first day of the jury trial and the game playing begins. They have so many cases that your attorney usually will only get 15-20 minutes in the morning to speak with them and the usual demand is $5,000.00 for non-rent control cases and $10,000 to $18,000.00 for rent controlled properties – simply to get your property back from a non-paying tenant. If you don’t agree to their proposition, the matter will be continued to a “firm” trial date. The rationale of BASTA is if you don’t pay them their $5,000 you will have a 5 to 6 day jury trial. It could last longer if the defendant is a non-English speaking defendant, because a trial with a Spanish language interpreter can last longer.
One BASTA attorney recently said to me, that he was “thrilled that BASTA has gotten so under the skin of the clients that they will make an irrational business decision.” Under his theory it doesn’t make sense that a landlord should not pay them $5,000 and instead go through with the jury trial and pay their own attorney $8,000.00 to do the jury trial.
The worst part of the whole equation is that the judges in Los Angeles allow the game playing and cater to BASTA’s schedule. If they are engaged in trial, their case will be continued to a “firm” date sometime a month later. It doesn’t matter that one BASTA attorney is available, it is the schedule of the “specific” attorney assigned to the case. I have often seen attorneys change during this process, which is totally unfair to landlords. The end result is that you can expect to come back to court two or three times before your case either gets settled or is sent out to jury.
How to Avoid Paying BASTA
What is the best way to avoid paying BASTA, or any tenant litigation defense firm money, which is what they want?
- Limit the attorney fees clause in your rental agreement to $500.00. BASTA is focused on the big money cases for jury. They love cases where there is an unlimited attorney fees clause. [USE AOA’S RENTAL AGREEMENT – FORM 101].
- Don’t back down and don’t pay them money. If you pay them their extortion fee of $5,000.00 because you don’t want to fight a jury trial and hire an attorney to represent you, you are setting a bad precedent. Further, BASTA will remember you and your property. You can bet that on your next eviction BASTA will represent the tenant and will demand the same monies you paid on the other case.
Words to the Wise
- If you are one of the unlucky landlords who has lost a case to BASTA and they have a judgment against you, run to the nearest post office and mail them a cashier’s check for the attorney’s fees that they received in the judgment. If they don’t get their money right away, they will double the judgment in a month’s time for asset searches, abstracts and research and … it is all legal!
- Whatever you do, do not represent yourself in an eviction if BASTA is on the other side. They will outmaneuver you. Hire an attorney.
Attorney Helen Grayce Long is an attorney at Fast Eviction Service. She attended UC Berkeley and graduated with a bachelor of arts. She then attended the University of San Francisco School of Law. Grayce has been an attorney for 25 years and specializes in Real Estate Law. She’s done landlord/tenant work throughout the state of California with an emphasis on Rent Control law. For more information, call (800) 686-8686, email [email protected] or visit www.fastevictionservice.com.