Unlawful Detainer

Winning Unlawful Detainer Cases

Easier than You Thought

How can you win against the landlord, especially the huge corporations, and their team of lawyers? Winning unlawful detainer cases is easy. Here’s a taste of it, a few examples of the most common evictions and their weak points:

1. Nonpayment of rent is actually the easiest kind of case for the tenant to win, contrary to popular belief. That is because there are so many things to go wrong for the landlord. The notice may not have the right information, or be incorrectly served. You may have paid illegal late fees or made repairs to the place for which you are entitled to a credit against the rent now due. Defective conditions allow you to withhold the rent. The building may be illegally constructed, so that no rent is due. From the COVID crisis, tenants are excused from paying rent under Civil Code Section 1511. You win by these and many more.

2. Breach of the Lease is another ground to evict you, but there are limits. The managers are usually little people with power who think they can order you around, but they can only enforce actual lease terms, by a reasonable interpretation of it, not their own. It can’t be a trivial breach, but must actually affect the landlord monetarily, and they can’t demand illegal things like late fees.

3. No Cause Termination is usually done by a 30- or 60-day notice in a month-to-month tenancy. It used to require nothing more than service of the notice. Now, California and many cities have enacted “Just Cause Eviction” laws, which prevent or severely restrict most of these evictions. Mobile home tenants have special protections from these laws. Relocation assistance to the tenant may be legally required. Proof of the reasons may be required. It cannot be served in retaliation for a tenant exercising their legal rights, arbitrarily, or be from discrimination. The notice has to include the right words, based on a legal reason, be given at the right time, in the right way. As simple as it is, the landlord often bungles the job.

4. Foreclosure Evictions are increasingly common as victims of predatory lending, saddled with loans, cannot stay afloat, or landlords, trying to get rich quick in real estate, find themselves in financial trouble. As discussed in a later section, tenants in these situations have extra protections as to notices required, restrictions on when and how the notices must be served, who can file the action, when technical things must be done, and special procedures available to them, in addition to the normal eviction defenses. It is typical that these eviction cases are filed in defiance of all these laws. They hope to scare or exhaust you out of possession, in a case lasting for months, only to be dismissed and re-filed right before trial.

Winning in real terms is always the goal. If all you want is more time, so you can find a place, save up the money, and make the move without living in your car, that part is easy. If you want to owe as little as possible, avoid adverse credit impacts, and get your security deposit back, that is very do-able. If you want to win the case and stay, then sue the landlord and his lawyer for trying to evict you, that is very possible and increasingly common. If you want to do all this, without spending too much money, that’s what we’re here for. You don’t have to outspend the landlord, just outsmart him.

How long does it all take? It’s a common question, but the answer depends on so many things. It’s like asking how many points your favorite team will score in the next game. My record is 4 ½ years, with second place at 4 years, two months, and $15,000 paid to the tenant. Typically, it takes 3 months to a year, when my clients follow the process. That was before COVID hit. COVID turned the landlord-tenant world upside down. You can view the COVID eviction video for more information about this []. With the court backlogged from being closed for months and the tsunami wave of eviction cases filed by all the landlords of unemployed tenants, a typical eviction could last years, if you follow the caltenantlaw plan.

What takes the time (beyond the court’s own scheduling bottleneck) is addressing the mistakes made by the landlord, his lawyer, the court clerks and the judges. If they were all competent and followed the law, the eviction would be a much shorter process. But you’re safe. That will never happen, and hasn’t in the 40 years I have practiced law. Just don’t tell them in advance that I am helping you. Caltenantlaw is your secret weapon. If you let them know we’re going to be behind you, they will be extra careful, and you will lose the advantage. Don’t let them know that you know karate. Just use it.

As arrogant and bullying as they are, the landlords and their lawyers are often bumbling fools, relying on corrupt judges and clerks to win. When you take control of the situation, everything changes. They are caught by surprise, and throw tantrums, because things are going your way, not theirs. You can settle the case at any time on any terms you want, depending only on whether they are ready to settle for something other than “they get everything and you get nothing,” without a risk. Timing is a function of the landlord’s ego. Remember that.