I took my landlord to small claims due to my unit being and illegal garage conversion. There is no Certificate of Occupancy for the unit I lived in thus is not a habitable dwelling. I sued the landlord for the return of rent paid and deposit due to an act of fraud. My Small Claims filing occurred on March 16, I prevailed as plaintiff as of April 17.
Landlord served 3-day pay or quit notice on March 28 and then filed UD action for non payment of rent on April 10.
Since my cause of action was filed prior to the Landlord's and the two cases are related for not paying rent. Wouldn't this mean that in a UD trial the Small Claims case take precedence over the UD action? I am no longer in possession of the unit, and no rent would have been due since the unit is illegal.I understand that the UD cause of action is for non payment of rent. The landlord or his counsel will not communicate with me to turn over the keys. I vacated the unit on April 23, I filed my answer on April 30 and stated I vacated on April 23. The landlord is intending to go to trial. I am prepared to go to trial in pro per. My thoughts are this action should be dismissed based on the facts of the unit being illegal and would like to bring my small claims action to the court attention but not sure how to do this since this fact is not stated in my Answer filed. I did check off in my Answer as an affirmative defense that the landlord's UD action is in retaliation. Would this be a good place to bring up that defense during oral argument? Lastly, I did report my unit to several govt. agencies and municipal code enforcement took action to my complaint 3 days prior to my filing of my small claims suit.
If you won your small claims court case, and it has been over 30 days so the landlord can no longer appeal, that judgment becomes final and you can begin enforcement of the judgment now.
With respect to the unlawful detainer lawsuit, you MIGHT be able to argue that the findings in the small claims court case are "res judicata", preventing the landlord from relitigating the same issues in the unlawful detainer case.
“It is well established that the claim preclusion aspect of the doctrine of res judicata applies to small claims judgments.” (Pitzen v. Superior Court (2004) 120 Cal.App.4th 1374, 1381.) Pursuant to California Evidence Code § 452(d) and Cantu v. Resolution Trust Corp. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 857, 877: “Both trial and appellate courts may properly take judicial notice of a party’s earlier pleadings and positions as well as established facts from both the same case and other cases”.
In any event, if possession is no longer at issue because you already vacated, you should tell the judge at the UD trial. If you do, the UD trial no longer has statutory priority, but will convert to a regular civil trial for damages. (The UD case won't necessarily be dismissed unless the plaintiff/landlord dismisses it voluntarily). The civil trial won't be for several months from now. Of course, you can raise the "res judicata" defense at that trial, if necessary.
Otherwise, at the UD/Civil trial, you still need to present evidence that the unit was an illegal garage conversion, and therefore, the landlord should not be entitled to collect rent.
If the converted garage is illegal, then under the case of Gruzen v. Henry (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 515, the landlord is not entitled to collect or request any rent. California law does not reward a landlord who has an illegal structure, and punishes the landlord by declaring the contract leasing that structure "void."
Typically, a landlord trying to evict a tenant from an illegal garage conversion would get restitution of the premises (an order that the tenant 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 rent controlled areas, such as Los Angeles, where the relocation assistance has to be paid, the eviction should not be permitted if the relocation money and proper notices to remove a tenant from a dwelling to be removed from the market have not be satisfied. The relocation money is due even if the unit is illegal, under the ruling of Salazar v. Maradeaga (1992) 10 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1.
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. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, consult your own attorney.
I would hire a lawyer to defend the UD. You need to focus on possible retaliation in addition to what Mr. Chen has advised. Good luck.
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