Q: What is the new Assembly Bill 590 and how does this affect landlords?
A: AB 590, also known as the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, is a bill passed in 2009 that provides funds for the Legal Aid Society of San Diego (LASSD) to hire more attorneys in order to provide legal services to low-income families facing unlawful detainer proceedings. LASSD will provide legal representation to low-income Californians at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The purpose of these services is to ensure that unrepresented parties in the proposed case types have meaningful access, to guard against the involuntary waiver of rights in the selected legal areas or the disposition of cases by default, and to encourage fair and expeditious voluntary dispute resolution, consistent with principles of judicial neutrality.
This affects Landlords in the respect that now more low-income families will have the opportunity to be represented at no cost to them. This will likely lead to more cases going to trial and an increase in attorney’s fees incurred by the landlord.
Q: How can I protect myself as a landlord from incurring unnecessary and additional attorney’s fees?
A: There are two ways you can protect yourself. The first thing you can do is to eliminate the attorney’s fees clause from all future rental and lease agreements. This will prevent the LASSD, as well as all attorney represented tenants, from requesting attorney’s fees if they should win the case. For any current month to month tenants you may have where there is an existing agreement that includes an attorney’s fees clause, you will need to serve a Notice of Change of Terms of Tenancy omitting the attorney’s fees provision. For current lease agreements, you will need to make the change once the lease expires. The downside is that you as well will not be able to request attorney’s fees should you win your case.
The other option you have is to put a cap on the amount of attorney’s fees allowed. For example, it would be a wise choice to limit the amount to $500. This allows both sides to recover fees, but not run up excessive bills. This would also be done by serving a Notice of Change of Terms of Tenancy.
Q: Does this bill apply to both residential and commercial properties?
A: No, this only applies to residential unlawful detainers.
Q: How will tenants know about this new bill?
A: When a new eviction is filed the court sends notice to the defendants (tenants). Included with that notice of filing will be additional info listing LASSD’s address and contact information.
Q: I served my tenant with a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. Do I have to accept partial payments of the total amount that is due?
A: No, you do not have to accept partial payments, but you may if you choose to. If you do accept partial payment it is best to immediately serve them with a new Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit for the remaining amount still due. You do however have to accept the money if the tenant comes to you with the full amount due. Once the Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit has expired you are not obligated by law to accept any further payments. Again, you may do so if you choose to, but it will invalidate your notice.
Q: If I accept partial payment on a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, can I still file an unlawful detainer because they still owe me money?
A: No, by accepting rent the notice has been invalidated and you must now serve a new Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit for the amount still owed. Once that notice expires you may file the unlawful detainer.
Q: Can I accept rent after an eviction has been filed?
A: That is up to you. If you choose to accept rent your case must be dismissed. Then, the next time the tenant is late on rent, you will have to serve a new Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit and begin the whole process over again. But you do not have to accept anything if your main goal is to obtain possession of the premises.
Q: If I accept rent after filing an eviction, can I charge the tenant for the legal fees they have cost me?
A: Yes. A landlord may request compensation for the expenses the tenant has forced them to incur if you have an attorney’s fees clause. (See above on removing or capping attorney’s fees.) If you have filed an unlawful detainer you may request that they reimburse you for the costs of filing and having the documents served (if you hired a process server to serve the papers). If you have hired an attorney to prepare the eviction for you and you have been charged legal fees, you may also request that those fees be recuperated from the tenant. This money should be collected at the same time that you accept the rent from the tenant. Once the money has been accepted, you will need to dismiss your case with the court.
Attorney Franco Simone, of the Landlords Legal Center and has been doing evictions for 18 years. He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego. Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday- Friday from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Walk-in’s welcome -no appointment necessary. Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com.