If you’re just starting out renting your property to other people, you may be tempted to study up on California landlord-tenant law and do everything on your own. You may think you don’t need to hire a landlord attorney. After all, how hard can it be to learn everything you need to know about landlord-tenant law?
Pretty hard. Especially if you’re new to the leasing and renting game. In time, you might learn enough to handle everything. But if you own a lot of property or if you work full time, it can be hard to manage your property without the help of an attorney.
Hiring a lawyer may cost you some money up front as you begin to rent your properties, but hiring a good landlord law firm will definitely help you in the long run. Establishing a good relationship with an attorney knowledgeable and experienced in the legal ins and outs of evictions and landlord-tenant law can help keep you prepared if you do get a bad tenant that you need to evict.
51,203 evictions in Los Angeles in 2015
A good attorney can also tell you ways to avoid leasing or renting to a deadbeat or criminal tenant. We did an entire blog on this, titled Keys to Finding Good Tenants and Ruling Out Bad Ones. But if you own a lot of rental property, whether residential or commercial, you are bound to get some bad tenants once in a while.
The New York Times reported in April 2017 that there were 51,203 evictions in Los Angeles County in 2015. That is a lot of eviction cases, but still it is only 3 percent of all rentals in the county.
Across California, eviction rates are far lower than in some Eastern states that are experiencing numerous evictions. In fact, while Los Angeles had a 3 percent eviction rate, it was 30 percent in Richmond, Virginia.
“In California, we have a good sense from court-reported data collected by the state of how many cases are filed each year,” The Times reports. “But [eviction expert Matthew Desmond can’t say what share result in legal judgments because of another protection California tenants have: Many eviction court records are sealed from public view (concealing them from future landlords, and researchers, too).”
Drafting an airtight lease
A great way to really help yourself a lot as a landlord is to write a lease that foresees as many circumstances as possible. The lease or rental agreement must also adhere to California law in every clause and condition. A good landlord attorney can help make sure your lease agreement is 100 percent airtight legally.
The lease needs to lay out everything you expect from the tenant. From how much rent is and when it is due, to how many tenants are allowed, to whether or not they may have pets or what size or type of pets. Does the lease revert to month-to-month at the end of the lease? If so, you should stipulate that all the conditions of the lease remain in place after the term of the lease ends.
The rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and tenant should be laid out clearly in the lease or rental agreement (see our blog here for the difference between leases and rental agreements). Make certain the tenant understands every clause of the lease before he signs the contract.
But before he/she signs and agrees to the terms and conditions, that is, before they become your tenant, do everything you can to protect yourself with rigorous screening and background checks. You do not want criminals, drug dealers, people who have trashed properties in the past or people who can’t afford the rent leasing or renting your property.
Make the calls to landlord references. Do the credit check. Check with employers. Verify income amounts that prospective tenants report. Tenants should spend no more than one-third of their income on rent. If the rent is $2,000, they should take home at least $6,000 per month.
A good lease is a great investment. It could easily save you money if you and your lawyer write it well enough. Tell your lawyer what you want the lease to accomplish. Explain your concerns. A good lawyer also will make suggestions about what a lease’s terms and conditions should be.
Leases are fluid things. You might change or add some clauses after the term of a lease ends and as time goes by. A lawyer can help rewrite a lease for new circumstances, too.
The complicated eviction process
It is possible to learn how to take all of the several steps involved in evicting a tenant. But if you are evicting for the first time, or if the tenant gets an attorney to fight the eviction, you should definitely hire a lawyer to help you.
Other scenarios where you probably should hire a lawyer include if the tenant you are going to evict is your property manager or another type of employee, if the tenant intends to or has already filed for bankruptcy, or if the tenant’s rent is subsidized by a government program such as Section 8.
Also, if you are working full time, it can be hard to carry out all the steps that evictions require in California. All the paperwork must be done according to law and filed on the right court. A judge will look at all of this carefully.
Express Evictions handles preparing and serving the eviction notices, filing the paperwork at the courthouse, preparing documents or managing video or photographs to be provided as evidence, and representing you in court if necessary. We know what type of eviction notice is appropriate and exactly what to do all through the fairly complicated process of evicting a tenant.
You can actually save money hiring an eviction lawyer because we can reduce the time your unit is occupied by a bad tenant.
As it says on our home page: “The average uncontested eviction handled by our company results in a vacant property 29 days after the service of the summons. You are always represented by Robert A. Krasney, attorney at law.”
SFGate reports it can take weeks to evict at least if you don’t have a lawyer:
“The eviction process, referred to as an ‘unlawful detainer’ lawsuit in California, can move quickly, with an eviction happening within days of the first notice to vacate. This is rare, however, since most tenants fight to remain in their home, extending the process for weeks, if not months. Follow court protocol to expedite the process, ensuring the judge rules in your favor. Courts do give priority to eviction cases, but cases get delayed if the court’s calendar is booked.”
We can at Express Evictions can reduce that time considerably.
When tenants sue for property damage
A misfortune like a tree crashing into a rental home or apartment or a roof leaking during a storm and damaging appliances and furniture can happen to the best landlord. Tenants can claim you didn’t take proper care and maintenance of the roof. If you get sued for minor property damage, usually your insurance can handle the claim. You may even be able to avoid small-claims court.
But if there is major damage, say to priceless works of art or antiques or something of a similar nature, you should probably hire a lawyer to represent you all through the process of the claim. It may even go to court before a judge and jury. If it goes to court, you definitely need a lawyer.
Landlords being sued for discrimination
Of course, we advise landlords to closely follow and obey laws and rules concerning discrimination and housing, as set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is not just so that you act fairly and lawfully, but also so that you protect yourself from lawsuits. Every once in a while, landlords get threatened with lawsuits when they refuse to rent or lease to someone. Usually there is nothing to worry about.
But if there is a problem, a discrimination lawsuit can be a very expensive one. If HUD finds you have violated its rules and discriminated against someone, you could face fines of at least $16,000 for each instance. That’s for a first offense, and that total does not include associated fines damages and fees.
Hiring a lawyer could help settle the matter even before facing an administrative law judge and avoid huge cash fines. If you receive a court order when a tenant wants to sue, we urge you to get a good lawyer to help you.
The best defense is to never discriminate. Non-discrimination is fair to your potential tenants, and it makes you a better person. As we reported in this blog:
“Keep in mind there are certain things you cannot ask a tenant about under the law or risk a discrimination lawsuit. Federal law gives seven categories of discrimination. You cannot discriminate based on age, race, sex, national origin, skin color (race), familial status, religion or disability. In your list of questions, do not include any questions along these lines.”
If a tenant sues for illness or injury
If a tenant or his guest says he was hurt or became ill on your property because of your negligence or even recklessness, you should quickly hire an attorney. If a lawyer is representing a tenant in a personal injury case, he likely knows the law regarding personal injury much better than most landlords. You need an experienced attorney when facing a personal injury attorney.
It just so happens that Robert A. Krasney of Express Evictions has experience in the areas of both personal injury law and landlord-tenant law. He is a great advocate for landlords who face such lawsuits.
You need a lawyer for more than evictions
Tenants are not the only ones who get sued in leasing and renting situations. You may have had some work done on your property that the contractor did not finish or did not do right the first time. You might need to sue him for that if he refuses to act in good faith and finish the job or fix shoddy workmanship.
Also, you could be sued for things other than discrimination. Sometimes tenants are dissatisfied with how a landlord applied the security deposit.
In whatever role you are in court, whether as a plaintiff seeking eviction or a defendant being sued, you should consult with a lawyer to at least prepare. If the amount of money is negligible, you might not need representation, but check with an attorney first. A lawyer can give you a heads up on what to expect and how to proceed. If the amount of money at stake is considerable, do yourself a favor and give yourself the full protection of hiring a lawyer.
Restructuring your landlord business and taking on a partner
If you’ve been the sole owner of your business but decide you want a partner, obtain the services of a lawyer to write the legal contracts and file them with the state to make sure everything is legitimate. Restructuring a business can mean legal and tax situations that you may not have thought through. A good landlord attorney can explain everything you need to know.
As you can see, there are many scenarios where you need a lawyer, whether you’re in the defendant or plaintiff role. Express Evictions can handle any aspect of the law helping landlords evict problem tenants and also personal injury when landlords are being sued for that.
Express Evictions does evictions for a very low competitive fee that saves landlords the complicated and time-consuming process of writing up notices, serving them, filing the Unlawful Detainer in court and having the tenants served with the Summons. If your tenant contests the eviction, our attorneys will go to court with you and represent you in front of the judge.
For questions about landlord-tenant law or for help with an eviction, whether in a residential or commercial property, contact us today.