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I was rented an illegal unit in a light industrial building/commercial. Can I recover my rent payed?

Santa Clara, CA |

Checked with the city and found that no permits exist for any units in the building. Building inspector coming next week. Will I be able to fight off an unlawful detainer by showing the judge I was rented an illegal unit? I need to have access to the unit until the city inspector has time to see the unit and write up the violations. I am planning on taking my landlord to court to recover my rent paid. Landlord also breached my unit without notice, removed electrical outlets and left bare wires hanging. Landlord is also being sued by two other previous tenants. Building has multiple violations and fire department violations. Any attorney in Santa Clara, CA that can do this on a contingency basis?

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Attorney answers 1


It is unlikely you will get back the rent you already paid. However, you can still be evicted in an unlawful detainer lawsuit.

You should argue to the court that under the case of Gruzen v. Henry (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 515, the landlord is not entitled to collect or request any rent.

If the landlord tries to evict you, the landlord will likely get restitution of the premises (an order that you be removed from the illegal structure without owing rent) but not any money damages in an unlawful detainer judgment. The legal basis for such ruling is that the courts will not enforce any illegal contract.

In some cases, you may be able to sue to recover the rent you paid. However, not all judges will agree on whether a tenant in your situation is entitled to get back rent paid to the landlord.

Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.

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