by Ned Harris
Housing law can be complicated, but there are ways to protect the place you live even if you’re not an expert.
Whether landlords own one property or 1,000, chances are good they’re willing to do everything in in their power to protect their investment. They’ve probably had to do so before — maybe on multiple occasions — so they know how to use the legal system to their advantage when they want to evict a tenant or neglect their responsibilities as a residential property owner. Their intentions might not be nefarious, but sometimes they are, especially when getting rid of a tenant means they’ll make more money off of someone else.
Luckily, more than half of Los Angeles residents and 37 percent of people living in the state of California rent their homes. Elected officials, courts and government agencies have created numerous laws and protections to ensure those tens of millions of people are treated fairly.
By taking a few precautions, understanding your rights and knowing what to do if you need to go to court, you can level the playing field and safeguard your family’s home.
- Low cost legal help is available. If your family is anything like the 80 percent of Americans who live paycheck-to-paycheck, the idea of paying for legal representation can seem daunting, even impossible. Luckily, nonprofit groups like BASTA can help without breaking the bank—often for less than $1,000. If this still seems steep, keep in mind how much you’d spend on a new apartment, movers and a security deposit. And if you win, there’s a good chance you’ll recover the investment and more.
- Rent control is highly technical. Your landlord may already know this (that’s why he got the lawyer), but many, if not most, landlords make mistakes that can mean you’ll win your case without ever going to trial. It’s everyone’s right to take advantage of the law to its fullest. A good attorney on either side of a case will know these technicalities and use them assertively to win.
- Each $100 of rent roll — the monthly income from a rental unit — equals about $15,000 in building value. That means that even if your unit rents at just $200 per month below the current market value, your tenancy itself is worth $30,000. That’s the value of what you’re saving by living there. Who wouldn’t want to save $30,000 or at least make the landlord pay you part of it for you to leave?
- You have a right to a jury trial in California eviction cases. Filling out an additional fee waiver and demanding jury trials with your answer means up to 12 people like you will decide your case — not a judge who makes $200,000 a year and thinks apartments are something parents pay for while their kids are in law school, until they have the money to buy a house of their own.
- It is your landlord’s responsibility to maintain your unit in decent conditions. If you have bad conditions in your unit, you probably do not owe all the rent the landlord is demanding. You wouldn’t pay full value for a car with a broken window, would you? Why should you be forced to pay full value for an apartment with problems?
Ned Harris is an attorney with BASTA. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BASTA, the courts or any government agency.