Over a year ago, I wrote an article about what changes were going to take place because the Los Angeles Superior Court system had implemented 60 million dollars in cutbacks and laid off over a quarter of the court employees since 2008. I projected what I thought would happen with the court system and how unlawful detainers would be affected. For the most part, I was correct but many new issues have arisen in the past year.
We have begun to call it the Wild, Wild West. Why? Because on a contested case, you never know what courtroom you will be sent to and you never know how the judge is going to decide your case. For every contested case in which I have similar fact scenarios, I can have different rulings from different judges. It really doesn’t matter what the law says to the contrary, judges have a lot of judicial discretion when deciding a case and many times they will bend over backwards to help the tenant.
The Court System
There are five courts in Los AngelesCounty that hear unlawful detainers – downtown L.A., Santa Monica, Long Beach, Pasadena and Lancaster. Downtown L.A. is the main hub court. When you file an unlawful detainer you will be in one of these five courts. However, if your case gets contested and the opposing side gives a trial estimate of more than 20 minutes, you will be assigned to Department One in downtown to get sent to a different courtroom to hear your trial. This is true for Long Beach, Santa Monica, L.A. and Pasadena. So when your case gets assigned to Department One you have no idea where you will end up. For example, when in Long Beach, I have been assigned to Santa Monica court. When in Santa Monica court, I have been assigned to Torrance, and when in downtown, I have been assigned to Van Nuys and even Pomona!
Legal Aid Delays
With the cutbacks you would think that it would have been the end to state funded legal aid organizations under the auspices of the Shriver project and BASTA. However, that is not the case. We still have many cases in which an attorney representing the tenant will file an answer and send out lots of discovery and request a jury trial. We have seen an increase in these cases in Santa Monica, Lancaster and Long Beach. However, downtown L.A. is still the main heartbeat for legal aid organizations and you can expect many delays when they represent the tenant. Sometimes you can have up to three court appearances before your case gets resolved.
What Every Landlord Should Do
What is the best way to combat all these delay tactics?
- Make sure that you inspect your unit at least twice a year.
- Inspect your unit before you put a tenant in eviction to make sure that he has no complaints and that the unit is in good condition.
- Take plenty of pictures of the unit before the tenant moves in so you have something to show to the judge when the tenant complains that the property was uninhabitable.
- Check your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors to make sure they are working properly.
- Above all keep good records of your tenant’s rental payments.
Another good tip is to make sure that your attorney fee provision is limited to $500 in your rental agreement. This can be a big detractor for the money-hungry defense attorneys who want to take the case to a jury trial. [Use AOA’s Rental Agreement and/or Lease, form 101 to protect yourself.] AOA members can download forms at http://www.aoausa.com/forms.html
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.