Talk to a lawyer if you need to defend an unlawful detainer
If you are a tenant facing eviction, it is important to understand that unlawful detainers in California are a unique kind of case.
I hope that the information here will help you to make a decision about how you should defend your rights. Although many tenants have difficulty paying for an attorney to assist them when they are faced with eviction, it is almost always more costly in the long run to defend yourself.
The following information is provided in the hope that you will carefully consider some important points before you make any decision about whether to hire a lawyer, and why it matters that you have an eviction defense attorney who specializes in protecting tenants’ rights.
Unlawful Detainer cases are not criminal cases
Many people are under the mistaken impression that an eviction is kind of like a misdemeanor criminal charge. It is not. In California, unlawful detainer actions are only civil matters. This is important for several reasons.
First of all, there is no right to appointed counsel. The court will not assign you an attorney. You are free to represent yourself, but it is not a good idea.
Secondly, the landlord does not have to prove very much in order to win. The standard of evidence is more probable than not. The court does not require that the plaintiff prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt. Click here for more information on what a landlord must prove in order to win.
Finally, there is no double jeopardy. This means that even if you win your case, the landlord can serve a new notice, come back to court again, and take another shot. If you lose your case, you can appeal the decision, but an appeal will not stop the sheriff from locking you out. There are very few exceptions to this rule. Even if the court does grant a stay of execution to delay the lockout, it will almost always require the tenant to pay an expensive bond worth many months of rent payments.
Unlawful detainers are not small claims
The parties to unlawful detainer lawsuits have a right to be represented by attorneys. Landlords and property management companies almost always do have lawyers. There are many lawyers that work for plaintiffs pursuing eviction in San Diego. San Diego is the sixth largest metropolitan area in the United States, and unlawful detainer cases account for a large percentage of the cases brought to the courts. The reason landlord attorneys have lots of work to share among them is because landlords generally understand the critical difference having a lawyer will make.
Rules of evidence apply. The tenant’s side of the story is often times never really explained to the court because defendants without an attorney do not know how to overcome the objections of the landlord’s lawyer. Trial can be a painful process to endure when you know you have a smoking gun document, or a witness who will help you carry the day, only to have the door shut in your face because you can’t get past an objection.
Discovery is available. Discovery requests allow parties to a lawsuit to find out what evidence the other side has before you get to trial. Most civil cases involve multiple discovery requests from both the plaintiff and defendant. These requests can be very detailed and time consuming, but they are an essential feature in almost every kind of litigated case. The good news is that as a defendant in an unlawful detainer, you can also submit discovery requests to the plaintiff. The bad news is that drafting the discovery requests is time consuming, and you can quickly be frustrated if you make mistakes. The biggest problem for defendants who want to get discovery, but don’t have an attorney is that if your requests are not made within the appropriate time tables, then your right to discover the plaintiff’s evidence will vanish.
Unlawful detainers are summary proceedings
Eviction cases typically take less than six weeks from the time the landlord files a complaint to the time that trial is concluded. If the landlord has an efficient attorney, then the case can move even faster. Tenants have important substantive rights, which means the law protects them from certain kinds of wrongful conduct. What is often poorly understood is that because unlawful detainers are summary proceedings, landlords have an enormous procedural advantage. It is kind of like the difference between chess and speed chess. You may be a great chess player, but when the clock is ticking and you need to make a move in less than 5 seconds, it is a different game altogether.
Once you have been served with a summons and complaint, you should expect that you are going to be forced to make a number of critical decisions about your case within a matter of days. It is not a good idea to postpone your decision about hiring an attorney. If you miss the deadline for filing a response to the lawsuit, you can have your rights to defend your case cut off. Even if you get help filing the answer, or feel confident that you can manage at least that much on your own, many tenants make critical mistakes that they cannot correct later.
Why Tenant Defenders wants your trust
- Tenant Defenders is committed to offering the highest quality legal services available in this field. You will receive personal attention from a licensed attorney.
- We do not use paralegals or office staff to conduct your interview, or to handle your critical paperwork.
- We cannot offer my services for free, but we will work with qualified candidates on payment plans, and sliding rates.
- You will receive an honest assessment of your chances and trial and a plan of action suited to your objectives.
- We will not exact a pound of flesh one spoonful at a time. Our pricing is straight forward. No hidden additional costs or fees, and we will not force you to accept a settlement that you are unhappy with.
If you are still uncertain whether you need an attorney to defend against eviction, then please fill out the form below with a description of your situation and an attorney will get back to you to discuss how we may be able to help