Having problems with your landlord? Renting can seem easier than owning a house. No lawn to mow and you don't have to necessarily take perfect care of the property. However, there are times when renting can seem very difficult, especially if your landlord decides to evict you, for fault or not.
Tenants often make the mistake of thinking they can withhold rent or ignore cure notices when their landlord has acted badly. These actions could prevent you from obtaining future work, housing or credit. But this doesn't mean you have to "sit back" and "take it." Tenants can protect their good credit and pursue claims against their landlord by taking away the landlord's most potent weapon: The eviction case.
Tenants have rights, but the last place a tenant should be exercising them is in the middle of an eviction case. Rather, you're better served to do whatever it takes to deprive the landlord of his power to ruin your credit record by filing an eviction case. Wait and exercise those rights as the plaintiff in a proceeding of your choosing.
Basics of an Eviction Case
Eviction cases, also known as unlawful detainer cases, are real and very serious lawsuits where the power of the court is invoked. Unlike small claims, all of the formalities of discovery, rules of evidence, and general litigation apply. A tenant facing eviction is even entitled to a full jury trial.
However, although all of the court formalities may be in place, the procedures for such eviction cases in California are speedier in most lawsuits. Pleadings, discovery and motions are often heard with only five days' notice. A trial can be set within the same month the eviction suit is filed. The issues of an eviction case are strictly limited to the topic of possession. This streamlines the case, but it also may prevent the tenant from telling the court his side of the story, unrelated to possession.
Being named as a defendant in any lawsuit is no fun. It's expensive, and can carry with it an assumption that you must have done something wrong. Being a defendant in an eviction case is worse. Aside from the pain and stress of defending the loss of a home and displacement of a family, the stigma of being named in any lawsuit could last a lifetime.
Effect of Eviction
An eviction can appear on your credit report and affect your ability to obtain housing, credit, insurance or a job, especially in a bad economy where all of these things are scarce. We live in an information-driven society where credit, housing and employment decisions are no longer made by human beings, but by faceless and nameless computers that crunch data and process algorithms.
Landlords and management companies can and will refuse to rent to anyone who has been named as a defendant in an eviction case. This is so even if the case is ultimately dismissed or the tenant wins.
Lawmakers know this is a problem. Ultimately there is nothing that the state can do to prevent negative consequences of being named in an eviction case. In 1992, California passed a law prohibiting certain eviction case information from being included in credit reports. This law was subsequently defeated as being unconstitutional since eviction cases are matters of public record and are available to everyone.
California then passed a law preventing eviction cases from becoming public record for 60 days, and forever if the tenant named in the suit wins within the 60-day period. However, the law allows access to these records to anyone having "good cause." This doesn't mean you can lie if questioned about it on a job, credit or rental application. If it isn't disclosed, the applicant can be sued for fraud and lose the job or home anyway.
What Should You Do?
If you believe that your landlord has done something wrong that has caused damage to you, don't take matters into your own hands by withholding rent or continuing with actions that are the subject of a notice to cure. Withholding rent or continuing to violate a correction notice ultimately allows the landlord to file an eviction case, and even if you win, as described above, you still lose.
Continue paying rent - to the landlord, the court (through a rent escrow program) or temporarily comply with a notice to cure - then pursue your case through a lawsuit in small claims, in regular court or through the appropriate government agency.
By following these guidelines you'll be in the driver's seat of your case, deprive the landlord the right to file an eviction suit against you, and save your job, credit and housing prospects by not having to disclose on applications that you have been sued in an eviction case.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How long does eviction information stay on my credit report, and for how long is it used in calculating credit scores?
- Are landlord-tenant ordinances only found in big cities? What protection can city ordinances provide?
- My landlord inappropriately filed an eviction suit against me, so what are my options for relief, and how do I have eviction information removed from my credit report?