There is a disturbing trend where unscrupulous law firms are enlisting tenants to bring forth legal actions against landlords. These lawsuits are based on deficiencies with the buildings, which give rise to huge damage and attorney fee awards against owners and management companies.  

In many cases, tenants create the problem and then fail to notify the landlord. Formal complaints are made to governmental agencies, which then will issue “Notice to Comply” orders. Tenants are encouraged to sign up for these lawsuits, on the promise that they can cease paying rent and will be rewarded with hefty awards at the end of the action.

So what can be done for owners and management companies to protect themselves? There are a number of items that should be followed:

  •  Check that your insurance policy is up to date and will cover you in the event that you get sued for this type of matter.   
  •   All leases should have a limitation on the amount of attorney fees that can be awarded and should require that all matters of this nature must be brought to arbitration. This prevents that matter from being heard by a jury, which possibly could award an insane amount. This also has a chilling effect on the attorneys who are bringing forth these types of cases. 
  •   Have a company policy that all repair requests must be made in writing, unless it is an emergency issue. This makes it more difficult for the tenant to allege that they gave you notice of the problem. This should be contained in your lease agreement or you can serve a “Change of Terms of Tenancy Notice”.  [See AOA’s form #132 – Maintenance/Repair Request] 
  •  Keep records of all repair requests and receipts that the work was performed. If a tenant has a problem, fix it promptly. Send the tenant a follow-up letter describing the date the work was requested, when the job was completed and what steps were taken. Keeping these records will make it very difficult for a tenant to prevail in a lawsuit. 
  • Document the condition of the premises at the time the tenancy was commenced. Take pictures and even video record the unit. This also provides great evidence if the tenant disputes the amount of the security deposit that was not returned. 
  • Do periodic inspections of your units. Pictures can be taken to show the condition of the unit at the time of the inspection. If something needs to be repaired, do not hesitate to remedy the condition. 
  • Screen your tenants very carefully. Tenants who have had problems with their previous landlords should be avoided. Tenants with poor credit histories are most likely to sign up with these attorneys.  

Dennis Block, of Dennis P. Block & Associates can be reached for information on landlord/tenant law or evictions at any of the following offices:  Los Angeles: 323.938.2868, Encino: 818.986.3147, Inglewood: 310.673.2996, Long Beach:  310.434.5000, Ventura: 805.653.7264, Pasadena: 626.798.1014 or Orange: 714.634.8232 or by visiting www.evict123.com. Now, you can also read Dennis Block on Twitter, www.twitter.com/dennisblock or text him at (818) 570-1557.  Get the NEW App for iPhone or Android phones. Search for “EVICT123”.  Landlord/Tenant Radio is back on the air!  Tune in every Monday at 1:00 p.m. on KTYM 1460 on your am dial and call in with your questions.