My Landlord Forged Documents To Get Me Evicted

My Landlord Forged Documents To Get Me Evicted

My Landlord Forged Documents To Get Me Evicted

I feel I did everything legally and now I’m being evicted. I’m being wrongfully evicted because I withheld one month’s rent.

I wrote letter after letter to the manager and owner complaining about water coming through my apartment windows. I moved in June of 2010 so I didn’t have any problems until the rainy season. The first time it started to rain, I realized I had a real problem with 3 out of 4 windows. I had to use big towels to stop it from running down on the floor. So the first thing I did was call the manager. He said he would talk to the owner and get back to me. That was in November of 2010.

I paid my rent and wrote the owner and manager letters asking for the repairs. In July, I wrote the owner and manager a letter that said I would withhold July 2011 rent until the repairs to my windows were done. The manager, who collects the rent, agreed with me. Two days later the owner came to my apartment and told me I should just move if I didn’t like it.

At that point I decided to go downtown to the city of Oakland and file a complaint against the owner. When I was filing my complaint, they informed me that the tenant prior to me in the same apartment made the same complaints. So I waited a few weeks for the city to come and inspect my place, but instead a sheriff came and left an eviction paper on my door.

It wasn’t a summons, it was an eviction notice stating that I would be removed. I question the legal aid person I went to see why wasn’t I being able to see the judge to explain my default. She told me don’t worry about that at this time the thing I need to do was file for a stay so I did and it was granted.

I found out that the owner forged the manager’s name as the person who served me the summons. The manager called the owner in front of me and confronted the owner. The owner admitted he did do this and told the manager if he didn’t lie he would be fire him. The manager said he rather be fired. He said he would help me in anyway because the owner withheld the summons because he didn’t want to go to court. I have all my documents and pictures along with several witnesses that can validate what happened.

This owner forged the manager’s name on three documents, the 3-day notice, the 30-day notice and the summons from the court. He never served me with the summons and complaint so that I would default and I wouldn’t have the right to answer in court. I believe I have an eviction on my credit report now. This can’t be right.

It isn’t right. You did do everything legally. Had the landlord served you with a summons and complaint for an unlawful detainer action, it seems like you could have successfully defended the case. But as I’ve said over and over again, it’s better to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit than a defendant.

Oakland has a Rent Adjustment Board. You could have filed a petition for decrease in services at the Rent Board instead of withholding rent. Oakland Residential Rent Adjustment Program §8.22.070(F) defines decreased housing services:

“A decrease in housing services is considered an increase in rent. A tenant may petition for an adjustment in rent based on a decrease in housing services under standards in the regulations. The tenant’s petition must specify the housing services decreased. Where a rent or a rent increase has been reduced for decreased housing services, the rent or rent increase may be restored in accordance with procedures set out in the regulations when the housing services are reinstated.”

That’s all water under the bridge. Your landlord is a scumbag. I’m not trying to shift the blame to you.

Your landlord pulled one of the oldest, dirtiest tricks in the landlord playbook. We in the business call it “sewer service.” The landlord filed the complaint and instead of serving you, he flushed it down the toilet. I’m not as familiar with the Oakland courts. In San Francisco the court sends a letter to tenants informing them that an unlawful detainer has been filed. That way one can immediately go to the court to look at the file and, if necessary, file an answer without service.

You need to find an East Bay organization who will write (and hopefully argue) a “motion to vacate default and default judgement” for you. This is a motion that essentially asks the court to reinstate the case. The court makes its decision based on two things.

  1. Was your neglect in failing to answer the complaint excusable?
  2. Do you have a triable issue if the court decides to reinstate the case?

Of course you have easy “yes” answers to both questions. You couldn’t answer if you were not served and you have a defense because the landlord failed to fix the windows, breaching the implied warranty of habitability in you lease. The statute that outline this defense is California Code of Civil Procedure §1174.2.

You mentioned that you are working with a legal aid person. Perhaps she is already working on a motion for you, but you should understand that the stay of execution (in UD a court order telling the sheriff to wait to evict a tenant) only gives you the time to file a motion. A stay does not end the matter.

You should get in touch with the East Bay Community Law Center. You can also call John F. Kennedy College of Law, (510) 647-2067 to see if you qualify for representation by their Housing Advocacy Clinic.

Tenants: I’ve already mentioned that it’s a bad idea to withhold your rent without legal advice to do so. This reader’s letter also illustrates that it is important to get your local code enforcement agency to issue a notice of violation for a substantial breach of the warranty of habitability. Civil Code §1941.1 provides a long list of possible violations. If a landlord has a violation he’s more likely to repair the defect. If he does not repair it, you have good evidence to bring to a rent board or a court.

If a landlord refuses to repair, get a code enforcement inspection quickly. Don’t wait! If you are unsure about who to call check out the Crow & Rose list of tenant resources.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

The Eviction Shuffle: Not Like Perry Mason

The Eviction Shuffle: Not Like Perry Mason

The Eviction Shuffle: Not Like Perry Mason

Perry Mason and all TV lawyer crime dramas would be boring as hell if they documented all of the steps between indictment (summons in unlawful detainer) and trial. These blog articles cannot take the place of a good practice guide. If you are in California and you want to check out an abbreviated guide to unlawful detainer procedure, go to the local law library and take a look at the California Practice Guide: Landlord Tenant, published by the Rutter Group. I say abbreviated because an unlawful detainer is overlaid with general procedural requirements as well.

Demand a jury trial.

Perry Mason didn’t really need a jury because the murderer always confessed, but Perry always had one. I think it is important to demand a jury trial. The demand should be served with the answer. It puts the plaintiff on notice that you’re willing to go all the way. I have found that jury trial demands are very useful when defending foreclosure cases, because the attorneys representing the banks are not used to defendants doing anything. Imagine their chagrin when they realize they might have to actually go to a jury trial in Fresno, when their firm is located in San Diego. The bean counters at the bank don’t want to spend any more money than they have to. A jury demand can be a good tool to begin settlement negotiations.

Interrogatories, requests for admissions, document production

The rest of the steps of the UD Shuffle mostly concern evidence gathering. An unlawful detainer defendant has the right to see the evidence that will be used against her. In civil cases one can gather the evidence using a number of methods in combination. Written interrogatories are questions that are submitted to the landlord that he has to answer in 5 days. There are specific forms for unlawful detainer questions (form interrogatories) and you can develop your own (special interrogatories). You can also serve requests for admissions. You ask the landlord to admit or deny certain facts. If he changes his testimony on the stand you can use them against him. You also want to demand inspect and copy relevant documents. While one can obtain valuable information from all of these methods, there are many landlord lawyers who simply object and refuse to produce anything. Certainly, you can go to court to compel production and we do that all of the time. But the best way to get evidence from a landlord is from the horse’s mouth.


I like to try to get as much information as possible using all the methods of discovery, but then I want to sit down with a court reporter and talk to the landlord. In a deposition the landlord is testifying under oath and all of his contradictory statements can be used against him in court. I don’t want to grill the guy at this stage. I just want to find out stuff. As much as I may want to make the landlord “confess” I know that admissions of bad acts are rare. It’s not like “The Case of the One-Eyed Cheese Ball.” So I’m polite and friendly and conversational. In a deposition I can see how credibly the landlord will testify and get him pinned down on his version of the facts. The landlord will really get the point—if we got this far, we’re probably going all the way to trial. It is also important to depose any witnesses the landlord is going to call to testify. Sometimes the landlord claims there are witnesses and there aren’t any. Sometimes they’ll chicken out.

Motion for summary judgment

You can get the judge to throw out the case if you can show that the landlord can’t prove his case. If you can show that there are no disputed facts as to an element of the landlord’s case you can win right here. Here’s an example: If the landlord claims that you didn’t pay your rent and you can show the court a verified copy of a cancelled check for the rent in question, there is no reason to go to trial. The judge will rule for you. Summary judgment motions are rare because facts are usually disputed by the parties. The written papers also have a slew of procedural requirements and take a lot of time to prepare.


Many California jurisdictions require some form of mandatory settlement conference before unlawful detainer trial. Check your local rules of court. If you are representing yourself, imagine an episode where Perry isn’t familiar with the rules, the judge hates him and Hamilton Burger has a perfect record. In San Francisco, the settlement conference is scheduled the week before trial.  By that time, it is often too late to get more information that could help you defend your case.  You better be ready to convince the landlord and his attorney that they cannot prove the landlord’s allegations. If you cannot, there is no reason for the landlord to settle. Unfortunately, if the tenant is unrepresented, many negotiated settlements at this stage require the tenant to move out

You may have a fool for a client.

In San Francisco, if you did not settle your case, on the Monday morning after the settlement conference your case will be assigned a judge and sent to trial. You gathered all your evidence. You prepared all your motions. You have all of your jury instructions. You have all of your witnesses ready to go. Now all you do is walk into the courtroom pick a jury and go to it like Perry Mason.  Right? Lawyers have a saying, “If a lawyer represents himself, he has a fool for a client.” I do think it is important for tenants to understand the process. But I also think that nine times out of ten you should be represented by a lawyer in an unlawful detainer. The landlord will almost always have one. If you are representing yourself, imagine an episode where Perry isn’t familiar with the rules, the judge hates him and Hamilton Burger has a perfect record. This process is hard enough for professionals. It’s nearly impossible for amateurs. If you truly want to save your tenancy, the business decision you make to defend your eviction should include an allocation of funds to hire a tenant lawyer. Unlawful Detainer Flow Chart

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

The Eviction Shuffle: RSVP

The Eviction Shuffle: RSVP

The Eviction Shuffle: RSVP

When your landlord invites you to do the Eviction Shuffle, like any polite invitee, you must respond. Unfortunately you cannot just tell the court that you are not planning to attend. Nor can you just ignore the invitation. The landlord will respond like a jilted lover and exact revenge. A failure to respond in the required amount of time will give the landlord the opportunity to ask a court to enter a default. The court almost always will default you if the landlord provides documentation that you were served and had an opportunity to respond. In San Francisco, the sheriff could be knocking at your door in a couple of weeks. Stick a fork in it, you’re done. You’re out on the street.

Unless you have a damned good reason for your failure to respond, which I will cover later, it is very, very difficult to overturn (vacate or set aside in legalese) a default. So don’t default.

You have five days to respond, in writing, to a complaint in unlawful detainer. Don’t call the landlord. Don’t call the landlord’s attorney. Respond to the complaint at the court, in writing. Do Saturdays and Sundays count? YES! You start counting your five days the day after you have been served with the summons and complaint. So if you are served on a Friday, you must respond on Wednesday. A disproportionate amount of complaints are served on Fridays because tenants only have three business days to figure things out, i.e. calling lawyers, finding self-help centers, and researching how to defend themselves. The only time you may get more days, is if the last day you could respond falls on a court holiday. That is not to be confused with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Check the court schedule online.

You must be personally served.

That is, a person who is not a party to the lawsuit, not the landlord, must hand you the summons and complaint. Don’t try to get cute and refuse to take a summons meant for you. If the process server can identify you and declare that he attempted to give you the papers, you have been served. In California the landlord can post the summons and complaint on your door along with mailing it to you, but only if he gets a court order. He can only get a court order if his server declares that he tried to serve you personally with due diligence. Usually, around three tries is enough. Okay, you have a UD summons and complaint in your hand, what do you do?

Get advice from people who know landlord tenant law.

Note, I didn’t say lawyers. Not all lawyers are familiar with landlord tenant law. Frankly, I love it when a landlord is represented by his brother-in-law, who may be a crackerjack estate lawyer, but who doesn’t know diddly-dick about a three-day notice. But also note that I didn’t suggest your friends who heard a story from their friends. I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken to tenants who have some preposterous assumption about UD. Inevitably they tell me “I heard that (for example) I can stay in my apartment for months before my landlord can evict me.” Not true, most of the time. “I heard that…” Three words that will get usually guarantee that you’ll be out on your ass. I heard that President Obama was born in Kenya. Get my drift?

In the Bay Area we are very lucky. There are numerous agencies and generous tenant lawyers to whom tenants can turn. The Eviction Defense Collaborative is the best San Francisco resource to help you write a response to an unlawful detainer. There are many other agencies who provide similar services in Oakland and Berkeley. Check out our links here. You can get solid advice about your notice and your complaint at the San Francisco Tenants Union, but they will send you to the EDC to write your response. The TU can also provide you a list of their approved tenant lawyers. Crow & Rose is proud to be included on that list. If you don’t live in the Bay Area, search online for “eviction defense” or “eviction help” to find an agency or lawyer to look over your documents. Also go to Caltenantlaw’s list of tenant lawyers in California to get a comprehensive list of tenant advocates. It is worth paying to have a tenant lawyer look over your complaint and notice to quit because they are trained to find subtle flaws that might enable you to get the case tossed before you have to answer.

Pre-answer motions

Someone who really understands landlord tenant law will carefully scrutinize the complaint; the notice to quit, which should be attached to the complaint in California; and your lease, if it is attached. The lease must be attached if you are being accused of violating a covenant of the lease.

When I see a complaint that wrong, my fangs pop out, dripping with venom, ready to strike.

In California, a document supporting the complaint is considered to be part of the complaint. Therefore, if there are inconsistencies between the attached documents and the complaint it may be able to be challenged in a motion called a demurrer. That’s French for WTF? No, it’s really just an objection to the pleadings, the papers filed in the case.

There a quite a few requirements for a notice to quit to be “sufficient.” For example, in California a landlord can only demand rent in a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit. If he asks for late fees or utility bills, the notice can be defective and the case can get tossed. In San Francisco and other rent-controlled jurisdictions there are often very strict notice requirements that a notice contain certain information above and beyond state requirements. There are magic words! I will not reveal them here in case landlords read this. But really, there are magic words depending on what kind of notice you receive in San Francisco. If the landlord doesn’t include them in the notice, the whole complaint is defective and can be tossed.


Motion to Strike

We love cases with defective notices. Demurrers have longer timing requirements to be heard. When we file them we extend the UD process by up to an extra month, giving us time to negotiate and to do things like depose the landlord before we even answer. Finally, it’s great fun winning them in a hearing; getting the case tossed and in some cases being able to collect exorbitant fees from errant landlords.

There are various other pre-answer motions that are possible. Another is a motion to strike. When a complaint does not, for some reason comply with the law, all or part of it can be thrown out. I have had a couple of case where the attorneys who drafted and signed the complaints were not licensed to practice law. When I see a complaint that wrong, my fangs pop out, dripping with venom, ready to strike.

The answer

If you cannot find a mistake on the face of the complaint, you file an answer. This is where you deny the allegations in the complaint and you state your defenses, your reasons why you didn’t pay, etc. Note that there are various affirmative defenses. This is where, for example, you say that you didn’t owe rent the landlord demanded because there were breaches in the warranty of habitability. This is where you claim that the landlord violated the Rent Ordinance or that he discriminated against you in some manner. Again, you must be very thorough because there are some defenses that you can waive (lose forever) if you don’t mention them when you answer.

Like I told you, eviction defense is complicated. Many tenants think that once they’ve answered, they can wait until a settlement conference to make their case. Not true. Look what it takes just to RSVP for the UD Shuffle!

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

The Eviction Shuffle: Should I Dance?

The Eviction Shuffle: Should I Dance?

The Eviction Shuffle: Should I Dance?

Ok, are you ready to dance? Before we start, one more thing: Notices have to be in writing. The landlord cannot simply tell you to get out. The landlord must include a copy of the notice in an unlawful detainer complaint. He can’t simply testify at trial that he told you to leave.

Unfortunately an eviction defense is not an impromptu dance. It is rigidly constructed and while many of the steps are optional, if you’re going to become the belle of the ball, that is win, you should learn to perform as many of the steps as possible. In a nutshell, you are going to need to know these steps: learn the rules; learn the law; strategy; pre-answer motions; the answer; jury demand; defenses; interrogatories; inspection demands; requests for admissions; depositions; relevant evidence; negotiation; settlement conferences; stipulations; settlement agreements; jury instructions; jury selection; trial; judgment and stay of execution. Daunting? Heck, these are only the very basics. In law treatises and practice guides, there are thousands and thousands of pages written on each of these subjects. There are thousands of variations and combinations of these steps. And there are a few thousand more steps I didn’t mention.

Should I dance? Can I win?

Before you decide on your strategy to defend an eviction, you should ask yourself, “Can I win this?” If you believe you can’t win because you haven’t paid your rent in six months and live in a below market rent palace where the landlord responds to your every whim, you might want to think about an exit strategy. On the other hand, if you paid one day late and there have been notices of violation for no heat on your unit for decades, you might want to consider going all in.

The two scenarios above are relatively easy to evaluate. When the facts are relatively clear, cases often settle because neither party wants to spend the resources, time or energy to litigate. The vast majority of cases that are litigated are won and lost on disputed facts. You know the old saw, “There are two sides to every story?” Guess what? There are at least two sides to every story. If you add a few testifying witnesses you can usually come up with many more. You may think you have an ironclad case, but you must carefully evaluate your landlord’s position and his ability to articulate that position.

Most lawyers understand that more lies are told in court than almost anywhere else.

You owe it to yourself to call a lawyer or ten to evaluate your chances of success defending an eviction. I think one of the best services I can provide for my potential clients is to point out the weaknesses of their case before they step into an eviction war. I say war, because that is what your relationship with your landlord has become, a war. They say all is fair in love and war. I believe that all war is based on keeping or acquiring land, regardless of the propaganda. (They don’t call it the “homeland” for nothing.) Therefore, I understand that a landlord will do almost anything to protect his land in an unlawful detainer case. He will lie. He will fabricate documents. He will forge your signature. He will accuse you of doing the same. And he will swear that all of those things are true, under oath, in court. Most lawyers understand more lies are told in court than almost anywhere else. I call that the lies per square foot factor.

So I try to question my clients thoroughly. When they make a statement, I always ask, “How can you prove that?” “Do you have that in writing?” Who was with you when you said that?” “How can you prove that the landlord is lying?” I point out that many of the landlord’s past bad actions may be irrelevant. And on and on… You must prepare yourself by trying, however stinky they are, to step into the landlord’s shoes. I should add that, legally, the landlord has the burden to prove his accusations in an unlawful detainer. But I think you need to be much more prepared than to just deny his accusations.

If you have a tenants union in your area, call or drop by to see them to help you evaluate your case. The San Francisco Tenants Union is open most days of the week. Check their weekly schedule online.

The dance. Is it worth it?

Make a business decision based on a cost/benefits analysis. Is keeping your apartment worth spending thousands of dollars on an attorney to defend your eviction? Maybe, if your case is relatively strong and your rent is low and rent-controlled. Maybe, if you can recoup the fees you paid the attorney. Check your lease to see if there is a clause that provides that a prevailing party in a lawsuit on the contract is entitled to collect attorneys’ fees. That cuts both ways. If you lose, you will be liable for the landlord’s attorneys’ fees. If your rent is at market rate and you can easily find another place it may not be worth it.

Is it worth it to defend yourself? Again, make a business decision. Place a value on your time. Calculate your out-of-pocket costs. As you might imagine, litigating anything is very, very stressful. How will you hold up?

Landlord’s Shoes

I am just scratching the surface here. The decision to defend an unlawful detainer is extremely personal because your home is at stake. But always try to make a business decision rather than an emotional one. Remember, if you win, you get to keep your place and you get to keep your landlord.

Don’t default!

Whatever your decision, you should always answer the complaint and demand a jury trial. The only time you need not respond is if you already made a deal with your landlord that includes a timely dismissal and is in writing. In California you have five days to respond. Get on it.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

The Eviction Shuffle: Notice

The Eviction Shuffle: Notice

The Eviction Shuffle: Notice

Unlawful detainer—sounds like a crime doesn’t it? I know I harp on this all the time, but for a long time it was a crime to offend the lord of the land, to deprive him of the proceeds from the land he worked so hard to inherit by not paying your rent. Even today, if a tenant loses at trial it is said she is guilty of unlawful detainer.

Unlawful detainer is the legal term for the lawsuit a landlord files to evict a tenant. If you are unfortunate enough to have been served with unlawful detainer papers in California, one of the documents is called a summons. NOTICE TO TENANT: That’s you! YOU ARE BEING SUED BY PLAINTIFF: Lou Sy Landlord. If you have these papers in your hands, you have been invited to attend a ball of sorts, usually held in grand building—the courthouse. You may not want to go, but attendance is mandatory. There you will be forced to learn a dance called the UD Shuffle. It’s not romantic or fun. It’s fast and furious and there are a lot of steps to learn.

Wait a minute, you say, I don’t deserve this. I don’t even know what I did to merit this invite. Before the landlord can sue you, he must first serve you with some kind of notice that you have done something wrong with regard to your tenancy or to ask you politely to leave in 30 or 60 days.

Notice to Quit (Move Out) or Vacate

In California, unless you live in a rent controlled jurisdiction like San Francisco, if you have a month-to-month tenancy, you can be asked to leave by the landlord serving a thirty-day notice to quit if you have lived in the unit less than one year; or a sixty-day notice if you have lived there more than a year. That’s it. If you’re not out, the landlord can sue you. If you have current lease, it’s an entirely different matter. Then the landlord has to have a cause to evict. Did you know that only two states, New Jersey and New Hampshire require that a landlord must have a just cause to evict? If that pisses you off, join Tenants Together, give them some dough or volunteer some time.

Notice to Pay or Quit

In California if you have not paid your rent, the landlord must give you one more chance to do so. He must serve you a three-day notice to pay or quit. If you cannot pay and you decide to move, if you’re gone in three days and have surrendered the premises (gave the landlord the keys and received a written receipt for them), the landlord cannot file an eviction action (lawsuit) against you. If you do not pay and you are not gone, you can expect to be sued. If you move the landlord can still sue you for back rent, but not in an unlawful detainer lawsuit.

Notice to Cure or Quit

This usually accompanies an allegation that you breached a term of your lease. You just couldn’t turn away that cute little kitten when you have a “no pets” clause. The new 40 megawatt home theater cracked a few windows. The colorful flower boxes you installed make the cheap galvanized siding of the loft (in the country they call them barns) look shabby, violating the no-alteration clause. The landlord will give you a chance to take the cat to the pound, turn it down or toss the petunias. If you don’t within the prescribed time on the notice, you can be sued.

Notice to Quit

The landlord is calling you a nuisance or accusing you of using the premises for an illegal purpose. The wine tasting got a little unruly…again… and one of your guests tossed the TV out the front window…again. The SWAT team confiscated your Maui, Zowy, Wowy. Or, seriously, you repainted the place after 30 years of landlord neglect and violated the no alteration clause in your lease and now you can’t unpaint it. I love reading these notices (unless they’re true). A lot of landlord attorneys are frustrated novelists and they can really shine when they write these. Whether they’re true or not, if the landlord serves you a notice to quit and you don’t move, you can be sued in unlawful detainer.

Notice to Evict for a Just Cause

In rent controlled jurisdictions you can also be served a notice to quit for a just cause that isn’t your fault. The landlord wants to move from his Pacific Heights mansion to your leaky, one-bedroom in the Tenderloin. The landlord wants to remodel your apartment. Your unit is illegal and now, after you’ve lived there for twelve years, the landlord wants to remove it from the rental market. In San Francisco there are 16 just causes. If you don’t get out at the end of the notice period, often sixty days, you can be sued in unlawful detainer.

Don’t Do Nothing

Alright, you didn’t do what the landlord says you did; or he’s just trying to get you out for an ulterior reason; or you paid in cash and the landlord didn’t give you a receipt. No matter. You have been sued in unlawful detainer. Contrary to popular belief, the process is fast. In legal parlance it’s called a summary proceeding, meaning a UD is the fastest procedure of all. If you do nothing, the sheriff could be knocking at your door in a couple of weeks.

You gotta learn how to dance!

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060