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Message # 903 Tenant rights: Eviction

mp3 #903 What Should You Know About Eviction? (mp3 file)

This message will discuss the following questions:

1. Can the owner sue to evict you?

2. Can the owner lock you out?

3. How do you handle an eviction suit?

4. What can you do if you lose the suit?

5. What can you do about discrimination?

6. How can you find a lawyer to represent you?

First, can the owner sue to evict you?

Yes - in some cases, the owner can sue you, whether your rental agreement is a lease or month-to-month.

If you have a lease, the owner can try to evict you for such reasons as not paying your rent or creating a nuisance by having noisy parties. In these cases, the owner must give you a three-day written notice to move before suing to evict you. The owner also might sue to evict you if you break part of the agreement - or if you are asked to leave when your lease runs out and you refuse to do so.

If you have a month-to-month agreement, the owner can give you a 30-day notice in writing, even if you have not done anything wrong. If you do not move within that time, the owner can sue to evict you. However, some communities have laws that limit evictions to certain "good cause" reasons only.

In order to have you evicted, the owner must go to court. The suit against you is called an "Unlawful Detainer Action."

Here is how an eviction suit starts. After you get either a three-day or 30-day notice, the owner will send you a "complaint." This is a paper that says you are being sued. You have five days - including weekends - to reply to the complaint. You also will receive a "summons" which tells you when and where to respond. If the owner sues in superior court, you must reply to the complaint in writing. If you do not, the case probably will be decided in the owner's favor.

To try avoiding a lawsuit, you might suggest that you and the owner try "mediation." this means that a "neutral third party" - someone who has nothing to do with the problem - tries to help you and the owner work out a way to settle your differences. To locate a mediation program in your area, get in touch with the Dispute Resolution Coordinator at the Department of Consumer affairs. You may call them at 1-800-952-5210 or access a directory of dispute resolution programs online at Or you may wish to call the Los Angeles County Bar Association Dispute Resolution Services at 213-896-6533.

Next, can the owner lock you out?

An owner who wants you to move cannot legally lock you out of your apartment or house - or remove your belongings or any doors or windows. And, an owner cannot legally turn off the gas, electricity, heat or water. If one of these things happens, you can take the owner to court.

If you win the case, the owner will have to pay for any damage that occurred. For instance, maybe food spoiled in your refrigerator while the electricity was off. And the owner may have to pay you up to $100 for each day that the utilities were turned off, or at least $250 for every law that was broken. The owner also must have to pay for your lawyer. However, if you lose the case, you may have to pay for the owner's lawyer.

How do you handle an eviction suit?

If the suit involves money and the amount is $7,500 or less, the owner may take you to the small claims court.

Lawyers are not allowed in small claims court, but you can talk to a lawyer beforehand, so that you will be able to defend yourself well. For example, a lawyer can tell you if you may be able to claim that the eviction suit is "retaliatory." that means the owner illegally wants to punish you for something - perhaps because you made a report to a building inspector.

Most eviction suits, however, are filed in superior court, where lawyers can represent you and the owner, too.

What can you do if you lose the suit?

If you lose, you may have to pay the owner's costs of going to court, including attorney fees.

You also are allowed to "appeal." this means you can ask a higher court to rehear your case. But you will still have to move unless the court grants a "stay" or delay, until the case is finally decided.

If you do not appeal, there is not much you can do, except move. Otherwise, the owner can get a "writ of possession." this is a paper that orders the sheriff to move you out. If you are in the apartment, he will put you on the sidewalk.

What if you move out but leave your belongings behind? If your things are worth less than $300, the owner can keep or sell them or throw them out. If they are worth more than $300, the owner must give you 15 days (18 days if the notice comes by mail) to take them away. If the owner puts your things into storage during that time, you may have to pay storage charges.

What can you do about discrimination?

You may believe that the owner of an apartment or house won't rent to you, or is evicting you, because of your race, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sexual preference, sex or disability. Perhaps the owner will not rent to you and a person of the opposite sex, because you are not married.

If so, call the nearest office of either the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing at 1-800-233-3212. Or you can call the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 1-800-669-9777. You should know, however, that the owners of housing for senior citizens do not have to accept families with children.

Last, how can you find a lawyer to represent you?

If you do not know a lawyer, ask a friend, co-worker, employer or business associate to recommend one. You may want to ask if the lawyer has some experience in landlord/tenant law. Or call a local state bar-certified lawyer referral service. Call the State Bar of California Lawyer Referral Service Locator at 1-866-44-CA-LAW or 1-866-442-2529 to find a lawyer referral service within California. Or you can contact the Los Angeles County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 213-243-1525. You can also look in the yellow pages of your telephone directory under "attorney referral services," "attorneys" or "lawyers." The person who answers your call can make an appointment for you to see a lawyer. You may pay a small fee for the referral, and you may talk with the lawyer for about half an hour. Then, if you decide to hire the lawyer, make sure you understand what you will be paying for, how much it will cost, and when you will be expected to pay your bill.

What if you do not have enough money to pay for legal advice?

You may belong to a "legal insurance plan" that covers the kind of services you need. Or, if your income is very low, you may qualify for free or low-cost legal help. Check the white pages of your telephone directory for a legal services program such as the Legal Aid Foundation Eviction Defense Center.

The purpose of this message is to provide general information on the law, which is subject to change. If you have a specific legal problem, you may want to consult a lawyer. For more information about your rights and obligations as a tenant, view messages number 901 and 902.

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