The biggest determinant of the outcome of litigation is which attorney the tenant gets and how hard they fight. Let's talk about tenants' attorneys, the vitriol we face, and elevating ourselves above the fray.

The NFL playoffs are upon us, which can incite a lot of passion. Emotions run high and there is a good possibility that there will be an altercation between fans wearing different jerseys.

Is the same thing true with landlord and tenants' attorneys? While Bornstein Law always remains professional, there are disputes that get very heated at times. We are wearing different jerseys with tenants' attorneys.

We've always said that no one should be painted with a broad brush and warned our community that doing so may lead to a costly housing discrimination lawsuit.

In the same spirit, we can say that tenants' attorneys can't be lumped into one. Bornstein Law has always conducted business under the assumption that there are good landlords and bad landlords. Good tenants and bad tenants.


Can we make the stretch to say that there are good tenants' attorneys and bad tenants' attorneys?

The question, we suppose, is where their heart is at. What is the underlying intention? Is the goal to right a wrong or is the goal to ratchet up the legal expenses for landlords dealing with a problematic tenant who is not paying rent or creating havoc for neighboring residents?


An inspirational success story

No matter what your preconceived notion of tenants' attorneys is - many in our community will say they are shake-down artists - everyone should enjoy a success story, and they can find it in Zach Neumann, a Colorado attorney who just randomly threw out on social media that he'd be glad to help renters unable to pay COVID-related rent debt, free of charge.

There were many takers on this offer and given the overwhelming demand for legal representation, Zach turned his desire to help others into a big operation.


We are hard-pressed to criticize Zach for helping people. His heart was in the right place by offering to lend a helping hand.


What we take an exception with are tenants' attorneys who have a more sinister motive.

Most landlords are good people but just lack knowledge of the law and just slip up. And there are opportunistic attorneys all too willing to air out these mistakes.

Years ago, we were amused to see an attorney who feeds his family by suing landlords who summarily deny Section 8 tenancies because it is discriminatory and violates fair housing laws. This serves as a good example that while landlords can be wonderful people, there are attorneys salivating over any missteps that are made.


This lucrative practice was exported to the Bay area.

We kid you not. An opportunistic attorney used a henchman to call up dozens of unsuspecting landlords who turned down housing vouchers. For their inartful communication, they were sued. We put out an alert warning rental housing providers about this, but some did not get the memo and further lawsuits ensued.


In an only-in-San Francisco moment, voters gave the thumbs up to Prop F in 2018, establishing a right-to-counsel program giving free legal representation to tenants facing eviction. The Bay Area is home to many organizations that come to the aid of tenants and we rub elbows with them often.

Earlier, we noted that AB 1487 would have created a statewide fund that would, among other things, provide legal representation to tenants at risk of eviction, but the Governor refused to sign it. Nonetheless, the "eviction without representation" movement has gained traction, as Zach Neumann's story in Colorado vividly illustrates.

Closer to home, the San Francisco Bar Association touts the largest legal assistance program of any local bar association in the nation and helps countless homeless people, immigrants, those facing eviction, people losing benefits, and other needy San Franciscans.

Yet it's been argued that legal assistance should be expanded to matters involving other matters like child custody.


Odd bedfellows?

Just like when it comes to rent registries and databases that publicly broadcast the amounts dolled out in tenant buyout agreements, both landlord and tenants' attorneys have expressed some qualms about giving free legal representation to well-to-do tenants. One progressive organization is disturbed that there is no means test to ensure that services are only reserved for the most economically disadvantaged tenants.


Giving people a hand up is a good thing.

At first glance, the goal of tenants' attorneys seems beyond reproach. They do play an important role in addressing wrongful evictions, landlord harassment, inhabitable conditions, and so forth.

Our founding attorney received the Hero Award from the Aids Legal Referal Panel (ALRP), an organization that strives for a world where people living with HIV have access to safe and affordable housing, quality health care, and other basic needs met. We have rallied around this mission.

We cannot dispute that tenants are underrepresented in court, but can the tenants' rights camp claim that some tenants' attorneys do not use stalling tactics, frivolous claims, and drag out an unlawful detainer action without regard for the merits of the case?

There are gambits used by inventive tenants' attorneys to drive up the legal costs of landlords and we are unaware of any program that provides free legal representation to rental property owners.


We take the Hippocratic Oath

Although we are not doctors, the basic ethical principle is the same: do no harm. We've said many times that our goal is to never enlarge a dispute but to resolve it as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible, taking into account time, risk, and attorneys' fees.

We are grateful to our community for the abundance of success we've had over the course of nearly three decades of practicing landlord-tenant law. We always welcome new business, but our foremost goal is not to get more billable hours; it is to resolve the disputes at hand. We do not have the attention span for a protracted dispute.


We will not toot our own horns, however. All attorneys share a similar obligation. 

Rule 3.2 of California State Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct makes it clear 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."

Attorneys should always keep these cannons of ethics in mind.


The irony doesn't escape us. 

While attorneys representing landlords are seen in one respect on one side of the housing crisis because at times tenancies have to be terminated, we have received wonderful feedback that in fact, our office (and our colleagues at other firms) actually stabilizes housing by escorting out bad actors who have demonstrated an inability to co-exist with other residents.

Our efforts to remove dysfunctional residents who are interfering with the quiet enjoyment of other tenants have been basked with much appreciation, as Daniel explains in this online meetup.

Our society has become polarized, but there is a universal human desire to live in peace and quiet and feel safe. In that regard, Bornstein Law does not undermine stable housing. We advance it.


In paying thoughts, it's been said that if you make your bed, you have to sleep in it. 

Becoming a boutique firm representing the rights of property owners is the path we have chosen for ourselves, and this comes with some blowback we can accept - we have to have thick skin in conducting the business we signed up for.

Yet ugly prejudices often bleed out when there is a landlord-tenant dispute. Some insulting remarks we can handle. We must admit it gets a little more personal when our family is injected into the discussion, such as a recent comment that our children have a rodent for parents. Undeterred, we continue to plow forward to accomplish the goals of our clients.

We thank the many tenants' attorneys we have worked with who have shared our goal to be civil and professional, and look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue in 2023. Look at what happened in the game with the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals.

When a young man was given CPR on the field, it didn't matter what the color of your jersey was - every fan, and every player was in unison.

We concede that landlords, too, make inflammatory comments. Let's all tone it down.