Although lawmakers pass a bill establishing a fund to fight evictions, Governor Newsom refuses to sign it
Bornstein Law has said in many venues that the biggest factor in determining the outcome of cases we handle is which attorney the tenant gets and how hard they fight. Although we are not aware of any initiatives to give free legal representation to landlords in an unlawful detainer (eviction) action, our battles are often litigated against tenants' attorneys who provide legal counsel at no cost.
The "no eviction without representation" movement has its roots in San Francisco, but AB 1487 would have created a statewide fund that would, among other things, provide direct legal representation to tenants staring at eviction.
California's Legislature passed the bill and sent it to Governor Newsom's desk, but now that the October 10th deadline has passed without Newsom’s signature, we can color this measure defeated.
The Governor noted that since 2019, the state’s coffers already had a burgeoning amount of money to “provide legal assistance grants to legal services and self-help organizations statewide to prevent foreclosures and evictions.” It seems that existing tenant protections are enough with no need to pour more money into the over $131 million the state has already made available to vulnerable tenants.
We are all about outreach efforts, but not ratcheting up legal costs with clever smoke and mirrors
For over 26 years in our practice, Bornstein Law has made it a priority to educate landlords and tenants alike and indeed, this commitment shone through during the pandemic as we have invested much of our time and energy cajoling both parties to participate in state and local rental assistance programs.
We’ve applauded the tireless efforts of tenant advocacy and anti-poverty groups, faith-based organizations, and an army of volunteers on the front lines who have done tremendous work in helping people in a precarious financial position apply for governmental funds.
What we take exception to are demurrers and frivolous motions designed to delay and obstruct eviction actions.
Our industry partners have correctly pointed out that money earmarked for eviction defense programs are often used by organizations that violate rule 3.2 of the State Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct.
In a nutshell, that legal canon says that "in representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to delay or prolong the proceeding or to cause needless expense. The cerebral types can read the entire guidance of the Bar here.
In an earlier article that made our case against AB 1487, we conceded that there are good landlords and bad landlords. Good tenants and bad tenants. No group should be painted with a broad brush and when there are wrongs, they should be righted.
Yet make no mistake - there are inventive tenants’ attorneys whose only goal is to drag out an unlawful detainer action without regard for the merits of the case.
A common argument made by proponents of free legal representation is that rental property owners have the upper hand in court.
“Tenants are consistently underrepresented in legal proceedings… The lack of legal representation leads to increased displacement and housing insecurity. I’m proud to partner with Assemblymember Gabriel to ensure at-risk tenants can access the legal representation they deserve.”
~ Assemblymember David Chiu in throwing his support behind AB
It’s been said that everyone should have their day in court, and we agree. New forms issued by the California Judicial Council have made it rather easy for tenants to answer a non-payment of rent eviction case without stalling tactics that drive up the legal costs of landlords.
Plentiful amount of free legal assistance currently available to tenants
In the wake of the state's expired eviction moratorium, San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston took to the mike to declare District 5 an "eviction-free" zone. Not only did Preston promise to amplify efforts to educate tenants on rental assistance available; after San Francisco has experienced a drought in money to implement the city’s right to counsel initiative, he noted that 2021 is the first year that the program is fully funded.
Takeaways for the rental housing community
When it comes to commencing an unlawful detainer action, documentation is specialized, timelines are unforgiving and procedural requirements must be followed to the letter. This was true prior to the pandemic, but new laws and local moratoria have given landlords and property managers even more rope to hang themselves.
Please tether yourself to an experienced attorney to avoid any missteps that will assuredly be identified by tenants or their attorneys. We don’t want your unlawful detainer action to be delayed or lost because of careless mistakes that could be pointed out and corrected with proper counsel.