I manage a 15-unit property in west Los Angeles. One of the tenants is a troublemaker. Let’s call her Jane Doe.
Jane Doe has repeatedly violated the terms of her lease. She doesn’t allow access into her unit for repairs, neighbors complain about loud noises coming from her unit at odd hours and she is verbally abusive towards other tenants and the landlord.
I served Jane Doe with a Three Day Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit. This is the legal way of telling the tenant “You have three days to get it together or be evicted”. My notice was very specific. It stated the date and time of the events for which Jane Doe has violated the terms of her lease. The notice was signed, dated, and properly served by a Process Server; I have the Proof of Service
LAHD Says “NO GOOD”
Days later, I receive a letter from the Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) stating that the Three Day Notice served on Jane Doe did not satisfy RSO Section 151.09 for … “failing to provide specific facts to permit a determination of the date, place, witnesses and circumstances concerning the alleged violation”.
Witnesses? Does the LAHD now require tenants to publicly inform on each other? Is the LAHD now saying that a Three Day Notice is enforceable only if the landlord identifies their “snitch”?
There is indeed a place on the Notice for a “witness” to sign. However, that signature is for someone who has witnessed the preparation of the notice, not the violation described on the notice.
Is it no longer sufficient for a Three Day Notice to include the date, time and specific description of the violation? In the event the tenant is served with an eviction, it would be reasonable to expect the landlord to produce a witness. But we’re not in court. We are simply notifying the tenant of a violation.
The infamous letter I received from the LAHD also stated that the landlord “must issue to the tenant and LAHD a written notice rescinding the original Notice to Perform or Quit”.
I’ve been in Property Management for 25 years. Most tenants that complain about a neighbor wish to remain anonymous. They don’t want to be labeled as the building “snitch”, nor escalate tensions with other tenants. Tenants also fear for their personal safety if they are required to identify themselves as the source of the complaint.
What Does an Attorney Say?
I discussed this matter on my podcast (www.parkside123.com) with my friend, mentor and real estate attorney Andy Baker:
Baker: “There’s no love lost between landlords and the LAHD. The LAHD marches to a different drum. They basically create law that supports their agenda and ignore laws that don’t. So the trick is to know what the LAHD expects on the Notice and follow their guideline whenever possible.
For example, take Section 151.09 from the Los Angeles Municipal Code. This Code states about 12 grounds for eviction in a rent controlled jurisdiction. There is absolutely nothing in 151.09 that requires a landlord to identify witnesses in the body of a Three Day Notice. There’s nothing in the Charter of the LAHD that gives them the authority to act as an arbiter and decide if the content of a Three Day Notice is sufficient. That’s up to a judge or jury. However, this isn’t stopping the LAHD from making such a proclamation. The LAHD knows that when they “order” a landlord, on their official letterhead, to rescind a notice, for whatever reason, most landlords will indeed rescind the notice, regardless if the LAHD has the authority to order the rescission.
Zac: Are you saying that letter we received from the LAHD, ordering a rescission of the notice, is all smoke and mirrors?
Baker: There is nothing in the Municipal Code, California Civil Code of Procedure, or LA Municipal Code or California case law, to support the LAHD’s “requirement” for a Three Day Notice to identify witnesses. Therefore, the LAHD doesn’t have a leg to stand on and has no legal basis to order a rescission of the Notice.
Zac: Why, then, would the LAHD invoke a Code section that is inapplicable or unenforceable?
Baker: I’ll answer your question with another question. Do the notices or leases that you use include language at the bottom stating that the document was prepared by the law offices of an attorney? The answer is most likely yes. If so, when the layperson reads the document, they assume that the document must be legal.
The LAHD knows all about this and uses it to their advantage. Landlords see a document on an official letterhead and assume that its content is true. So the landlords take the bait and rescind the notice.
I’m a lawyer and have read 151.09 with a fine tooth comb. I know that their demand to rescind for failure to name witnesses in the notice has no “teeth” to it, and is therefore not legally binding.
Zac: Understood. . What advice do you have for landlords who receive a letter like this from the LAHD?
Baker: Call a knowledgeable real estate attorney and have him or her fact-check the document. Many landlords avoid calling an attorney for fear of being billed a consulting fee. I don’t do that. My first 15-20 minute consultations are not billable events. But if you have an attorney that does charge you a few bucks, bite the bullet, get the advice you need, and respond accordingly to the LAHD, who I refer to as the “Evil Empire.” The LAHD often does what is expedient, and not necessarily what is legal.
Zac: What’s the downside for a landlord who takes your good advice and contests the authority of the LAHD with regard to the sufficiency of a Three Day Notice?
Baker: In my opinion, there is no downside. The worst case scenario is that the LAHD would refer the case to the City Attorney. And in this scenario, I believe that they would reach the same conclusion that I have, which is that the LAHD has no authority to rescind a Three Day Notice for failure to identify witnesses.
Even if they do pursue it, the City Attorney will call you in for a meeting with the Hearing Officer and review the case. However, in this situation, the law is on the side of the landlord and Municipal Code Section 151.09 speaks for itself. There is no requirement for the landlord to identify witnesses within the body of a Three Day Notice.
Zac: What are the minimum requirements for the contents of a Three Day Notice to Perform or Quit or to Pay Rent or Quit?
Baker: The notices have to be dated and signed by the landlord or his/her authorized agent. The tenant must be served with the notice and given time to cure the violation. The notice must clearly and simply state the details of the violation. The Notice to Perform or Quit must be signed by a witness. If the tenant doesn’t cure the violation after the three day period, the landlord has grounds to evict. Preparing a Three Day Notice is a straightforward process. It’s not rocket science.
Zac: Where would a landlord find a properly formatted, and legally acceptable, Three Day Notice?
Baker: AOA offers free notices, as do many eviction attorneys. [AOA Members can download forms for free by visiting www.aoausa.com.]
Zac: Let’s talk about the “life and death” of a Three Day Notice. Let’s say rent is due on the first of the month and it’s now the 10th of the month. You serve the tenant with a Three Day Notice to pay or Quit. Once the document is served, for how long is that Notice valid?
Baker: Once served, a Three Day Notice to Pay or Quit doesn’t die. It’s valid forever. However, if the landlord files an Unlawful Detainer, he can only ask the court for possession of the premises, not money. The owner would have to file a separate claim against the tenant for the monies owed in unpaid rent. For these reasons, it is wise for a landlord not to wait prior to filing an eviction. Also, if the landlord accepts rent any time after the three-day period, this would invalidate the Unlawful Detainer.
Zac: We’ve all seen the ads in the trade magazines stating “Eviction Services – $100.00 plus costs”. What’s the reality here insofar as a landlord’s out of pocket costs to file an eviction?
Baker: About $2,500.00 to $3,500.00, depending on the lawyer. Some will charge more than that. Bench trials usually run about $2,500.00. Jury trials could cost a landlord about $15,000 to $20,000.00. Some lawyers will cap their fees from $5,000.00 to $7,500.00. I believe that $3,500.00 to $12,500.00 is a realistic range of fees to expect for filing a UD.
Zac: How can a landlord protect himself from exorbitant attorney fees?
Baker: Some leases have a provision that attorney fees are capped at $600.00. This gives the tenant rights’ attorneys incentive not to pursue a jury trial because they won’t get a large award even if they were awarded it.
Zac: As we all know, you cannot deny any defendant the right to a jury trial. So why place that language in your lease?
Baker: That language is in the lease only to discourage opposing counsel to pursue a jury trial. So the landlord’s best approach to save money on legal fees would be to find an attorney that’s willing to cap his fees.
Zac: Am I going to be billed for this conversation?
Baker: A lunch bill, for sure!
Andy Baker is a real estate attorney in Calabasas, California and can be reached at (818) 620-6023 or [email protected]. Zachary Lawrence JD is the owner of Parkside Property Management. He can be reached at (310) 636-1200 or [email protected].