As a landlord in the high desert, I was doubling my evictions every year for the past several years.  However, I feel the judiciary is responsible, to some extent, for the increase in caseload, at least when it comes to Unlawful Detainers. 

I’m actually out of the landlord business at this point, having sold my last apartment complex this past October.  So as a parting, shot, I put the attached letter together which describes problems faced by mediated settlements in UD cases. 

Dear Judge Slough:

As a small time landlord, I have found it cost effective to represent myself in filing Unlawful Detainers (UD) against tenants for the situation of non-payment of rent.  In the Victorville district where my apartments are located and where my cases are tired, all pro-per plaintiffs such as myself are directed to mediation prior to the trial.

While mediation may serve in reducing the number of cases heard for a given day, there is an undesirable side to this procedure in the long term, for both the courts and the rental housing industry, particularly in poor neighborhoods.  UD cases which go to mediation, even when there is complete capitulation by the defendant, result in a sealed case for the defendant.  A sealed case prevents the legal item from showing up on the defendant’s credit history.  This, in turn, allows the tenant/defendant to skirt the most critical screening issue when they apply for rental housing as their credit history shows no evictions.

Since poor tenants generally have no credit history, public record items on credit reports are extremely important to landlords in identifying habitual deadbeat applicants.

My tenants have quickly spread the word among themselves that they can endure a UD with impunity and at no cost.  (Most of them are on some type of assistance program which qualifies them for a waiver on court fees in filing an answer and makes it difficult or impossible to collect on a judgment.)

The number of UDs I have filed in the past several years for non-payment of rent has doubled every year from 2011. 

  • 2011, there was one case
  • 2012 – two cases
  • 2013 – five cases
  • 2014 – nine cases 

Not one penny was collected by the court from the defendants in any of those cases for filing an answer to the UD and not one defendant prevailed in the hearings.

My response to this court procedure was initially to refuse mediation.  As a result of this approach, I was admonished by the judge who said the court ordered me to mediation – I had no choice.  Subsequently, I attended mediation hearings, but refused all options presented by the court mediator and continued on to trial where I prevailed in every case.

This policy of automatically sealing cases out of mediation seems to be an interpretation of Civil Procedure 1161.2 (a) (5) which stipulates that access to the case file is blocked if the tenant prevails.  I would ask the judiciary to consider the points I have presented above in their interpretation of this item and make a decision to seal or not seal on a case by case basis, irrespective of a mediated settlement. 

Sincerely, 

James A. Jonaitis 

Another complaint I have with the system is the ease with which defendants can get the taxpayers to pick up the $240 fee for filing an answer to an eviction, simply because they are on some type of government assistance.  No individual should be denied due process simply because of economic status, however, the judiciary is responsible for identifying superfluous lawsuits, as well as superfluous answers to lawsuits. 

Tenants are getting fee waivers for requesting a trial and then show up in court with no argument, or worse yet – they don’t even show up! 

James A. Jonaitis has been in the landlording business since 1986 and an AOA member the entire time.