5 Tips to Winning an Unlawful Detainer - Landlords
I sincerely hope that all of my readers enjoyed my last blog on fighting an unlawful detainer action. As I eluded last time, I now will focus on the other side of the coin: how to file and WIN an unlawful detainer action against a tenant. My five tips to winning an unlawful detainer action include:
Know Your Rights#1: Know your Rights
The most important thing to remember in ANY legal situation is to fully comprehend your rights as a landlord. This should go without saying, but knowing where you stand is of paramount importance. More specifically, there are three common causes of action which landlords file unlawful detainers under: a) Failure to Pay Rent; 2) Breach of the Covenants of the Lease; and 3) Nuisance.
Failure to Pay Rent:
Paying rent in a timely manner and providing a habitable premises to live in are two of the most important duties associated with the landlord-tenant relationships. Subsequently, a tenant's failure to pay rent is the most common, and, most conclusive cause of action in unlawful detainers. Among the various ways to evict a tenant from a rent-controlled unit, failure to pay rent is by far the strongest and best way to evict problem tenants. Though beware, that many municipalities, particularly those in the greater Los Angeles area, are very tenant friendly, and as such, require that all procedural steps be met to a tee. More specifically, landlords bear a higher burden of responsibility, and must essentially conduct all steps in the unlawful detainer process mistake-free in order to be fully successful in their endeavors. For example, if any notice provided to a tenant is off, even by just a penny, the notice will be deemed improper and can invalidate the unlawful detainer action. Further, such fiscal offsets can even include failure to account for overpayment and early collection from municipality approved rent increases. As such, the superior court system has enacted various new rules to better protect tenants, forcing landlord's to conduct all steps accordingly. Surprisingly the importance of hiring legal representation weighs heavier on landlords more so than tenants, since landlords are in a better fiscal position to obtain legal representation.
Breach of the Covenants of the Lease:
This is the second traditional way to get a problem tenant out of a rent-controlled building. Here, the tenant has breached certain covenants, or agreements, made in the original lease, including any attached addendums. In fact, it is best to have a lawyer draft your lease agreements, as to not miss any key clauses / provisions that should be included in the agreement, especially if your property is located in a county or municipality with unique rules. The most common covenants that are breached (and actionable) include damage to the property, including the main-areas accessible by all tenants, illegal use of the premises (for example using the premises to elicit and sell narcotics,) and prohibited subleasing of the unit. The last action is becoming more and more common with the advent of AirBnB, as many tenants are subleasing their units without their landlord's approval.
This is generally the most common, yet most difficult situations that landlords face. There are countless situations where one tenant is creating havoc for both the landlord, as well as other tenants in the building. The problem in evicting someone based on nuisance will require substantial evidence to prove the presence of the nuisance, and further, the nuisance
Lease AgreementThe most important document in any landlord-tenant relationship is the lease agreement. Specifically, the lease agreement is the basic contract that binds each party together to mutual obligations owed. This document includes all the terms of the lease, including the various "covenants" we discussed earlier. In addition to the lease, landlords should maintain all correspondences and documentation of the tenancy, including maintaining conversations between the parties in written documentation, which includes subsequent emails. Lastly, keep a file of all payments made to you or your company, and if any rent payments are made in cash be sure to give the tenant a receipt of said payment.
Know Your TenantsOften knowing who your tenants are as people, on short-based interactions, is very difficult to assess. In fact, many landlords enter these relationships after the prospective tenant simply visits the unit or premises, ultimately requiring the tenant to adhere to the rules enforced by the Landlord, including payment of rent on a regular timely basis. When dealing with an unlawful detainer action against a tenant, be sure to consider what you know about them, including, but not limited to, their spending habits, as well as their former and current occupation. Considering such tenant characteristics can often help a landlord in resolving an issue, or give them leverage in striking a deal with the problem tenant in order to better protect the integrity of the premises.
Make Sure Notice is ProperAlthough discussed in our previous blog post and above, it is important to reiterate the importance of understanding and serving proper notice. First, landlords must know the law in their municipality and make sure all contained information is filled in correctly. Such information includes the correct balance of rent, the landlords name and address, times of business operation, and the proper parties involved in the notice and subsequent legal action. If you are unsure or worried about making a mistake, contact a lawyer so they can ensure that the unlawful detainer action is handled properly from start to finish.
Know Your Jurisdictional RulesThis seems like an obvious thing to keep in mind, but countless landlords do not realize that landlord-tenant laws vary by city, county, and municipality. For example, the city of West Hollywood, located in California, js rent-controlled, and the rules pertaining to unlawful detainers differentiate with those in Beverly Hills, a non-rent-controlled city. Furthermore, the actual locale of the city can lead to different interpretations of such laws and statutes by our courts. As always, consult with an attorney to ensure the proper rules in your particular town.