This article was posted on Monday, Mar 01, 2021

AB 3088 permits owners to proceed to Small Claims Court for the collection of back rent or other rental deficit damages.  A Plaintiff may not appeal from a Small Claims Court award, ruling decision or judgment.  It seems so simple and safe, right?  Be careful.

The Trial

The Tenant Protection or eviction groups are going to send representatives to the trial.  They’ll have false, fabricated and phony “facts”.  They’ll claim that in order to recover rental arrearages, you need to serve a “perfect” 3-Day Notice.  Well, of course, we now know it’s a fifteen-day notice.  These notices are only required if the Plaintiff/Owner wishes to recover possession.  Small Claims Court does not provide for eviction remedies.

So, the trial is usually four or five minutes or less.  Often, judges or commissioners or “Pro Tem” judges seldom read anything.  Awaiting the outcome is where you hand the judge a single paper brief.  At the beginning, you identify the injuries and damages and the amount you’re claiming.

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Words of Advice

Keep it simple – very primitive.  The more you attempt to include evidence, the more difficult it is for the judge.  Remember, this judge probably has 100 items on his calendar.  He’ll deal first with cases where there has been a problem getting a party served.  Then, cases where he’s hearing an uncontested matter by way of default.  The final cases are generally the contested matters and he has very little time to hear evidence.

Remember, hearsay evidence, opinions with a proper legal foundation and documents with no proper foundation will not be admitted.  What’s most dangerous is that the Plaintiff/Owner cannot appeal.

There are many commissioners, temporary judges and others who have a well-defined bias and prejudice against landlords.  An owner may claim that rent wasn’t paid between March 2020 and January 31, 2021 and the judge may simply reduce that amount in half, claiming there was some type of habitability issue or other problem and the owner will get a very disappointing outcome.

Final Thoughts

Remember, in Small Claims Court, once you get a judgement, the judge can decide later that the judgement can be reduced for installment payments of as little as $10 per month, or even less.  Small Claims court is very dangerous.

You need a perfect case and perfect evidence and be incredibly fortunate and lucky with the selection of the judge.  Be careful.  I’ve seen many injustices perpetrated in Small Claims Court.  Many.


Michael Millman is an Attorney and a Mar Vista activist and can be reached at (310) 477-1201.