On Sunday, my landlord posted two documents on my door: a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit and a "notice of change of terms of tenancy" that unilaterally changed our lease to cap attorney's fees awards at $100. Our lease agreement does not specify any limit on attorney's fees. On Thursday, I was served with an unlawful detainer lawsuit.
I want to retain counsel to represent me, but the change in terms of tenancy is quite transparent in seeking to limit my ability to retain competent counsel. The landlord filed the suit pro se and will apparently represent himself. I have an excellent defense to the charges, but am not naive enough to try to argue my defense alone in court.
Is the limiting of attorney's fees valid? How and where do I challenge it?
I am not aware of any legal mechanism that could validly restrict your right to hire legal representation. Whether you hire an attorney and how much you pay them is no business of anyone but you and your attorney. Either there has been some misunderstanding as to the meaning of the provision, or your landlord is just being shady.
Sometimes there are clauses in contracts limiting how much of your attorney's fees and/or damages the other side will pay for in the event you win a lawsuit against them, but even if that were the case, tacking it to your door with a 3-day notice, when it was never a part of your original agreement, would probably render the provision unenforceable in court.
A provision simply stating that you're not allowed to spend more than $100 of your own money on an attorney is absurd and probably something you can safely ignore.
You can challenge the unilateral change of a written contract at time if trial as not binding and of no legal effect on you. Moreover, since the LL is in pro per, there are no attorney fees.
Richard A. Rodgers, Esq.
SHANE, DiGIUSEPPE & RODGERS LLP
200 N. Westlake Blvd., Ste 201
Westlake Village, CA 91362
As stated in the AVVO.COM Terms and Conditions of Use, this answer is not intended as legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship or privilige is created by this response.
Limiting Attorney's fees is quite common in rental agreements. Two issues that need to be addressed. First, if you are in an area of Los Angeles where the LAPD answers your 911 calls and you live in a multi-unit dwelling that was built before 1979, you are in a rent controlled property. There can be no material changes to your rental agreement by the landlord under those circumstances. For your case, let us assume that you are not rent control. A change in terms of tenancy takes effect 30 days after its served. Your landlord's attempt to serve a change in terms of tenancy and have it take effect immediately will not help him in this case.
A proper response would require a thorough investigation into the history and background of this relationship. The information provided above is just that, information, to be used as you see fit.
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