TENANTS LEGAL CENTER
Free assistance or emergency filings may be done but they are not enough
Although we at the Tenants Legal Center help many people on a daily basis with responding to evictions at low fees, there are no cost resources available to assist tenants or occupants facing eviction proceedings. If you qualify, you can get free assistance from your local public Legal Aid office. In these cases, they can help you get an ANSWER filed to respond to an eviction (Unlawful Detainer) lawsuit to prevent losing by default. That is usually an emergency situation and you may be helped by an assistant or volunteer who is NOT an attorney. Sometimes tenants or occupants do not get assistance in time and are forced to file an ANSWER on their own. That is a good first step but if you did not have an Attorney personally assist you, you should have an Attorney experienced in these cases carefully review the document after you filed it to delete or diminish anything that was put in that will not significantly help you are add something that was not put in that is critical to be there for your defense. Once you go to court without having the ANSWER reviewed and, if necessary, amended, you could be stuck with a legal position (in the ANSWER) that may hurt you. If done timely, an ANSWER may be amended (corrected and improved) for you by an Attorney but that must be done pretty quickly after filing it or a Court may not allow the correction or amendment. After the ANSWER is filed, there will be a court trial and that is a whole new and different situation. The filing of the ANSWER alone will not protect you during a trial. The document will not speak for you, protect you from inadmissible evidence offered against you or argue for your rights to the Judge. It will not catch the landlord if he/she tries to lie to the court or surprises you with evidence you did not anticipate. That is what an Attorney is needed for. They can protect you from the expected AND the unexpected.
Should I represent myself in an eviction court trial?
Clearly, it is best that you do NOT represent yourself in court. Even though you may have had assistance filing the ANSWER, that paper will NOT protect you in a court trial. It is merely your assertion that you are not guilty. A landlord (or bank) attorney can easily get past your paperwork and win the case before you know what just happened. Representing yourself in a Superior Court Lawsuit is not a good way to protect your rights. You have probably heard "A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client." Doctors know better than to treat or operate on themselves. The same goes for tenants or other occupants facing a court eviction. Keep in mind that almost all those who represent themselves lose the case or agree to a bad settlement. Trials are very complicated. You must know the rules of evidence and trial procedure. A smoking gun document that you are convinced will win the case is worthless if the judge will not admit it into evidence. Presenting your own case in court without representation has proved to be a very disappointing and traumatic experience. Without specific and skillful knowledge of complex rules of evidence and court procedures, your evidence may never be heard, no matter how "good" it was. Witness statements could be worthless if not presented properly. You will be unable to effectively challenge or prevent opposing, damaging and sometimes even false evidence against you from being heard by the judge. You have very little chance under these "battle" and pressure conditions, even with a good case. Unfortunately it has become painfully clear that when tenants represent themselves in any eviction court action, they will almost always either lose the case or agree to a bad settlement, regardless of what rights they had. This means that tenants should not represent themselves in any court eviction case.
Why can't I negotiate on my own with the opposing attorney?
With effective representation, there may be no trial since your own attorney can settle the case out of court. The opposing attorney will respect a good tenant's rights defense lawyer and back down from their hard line eviction plans and settle a case. They know that we (Tenants Legal Center attorneys) know the laws and their technical tricks and tactics. They do not want to risk losing the case and then maybe losing that client!! (Landlords and banks do not like to lose) They are motivated to settle the case with us on favorable terms (for both sides). They cannot and will not treat an unrepresented tenant the same way as a represented one. They are not concerned about unrepresented tenants since they pose no real risk to them of interfering with their plans of winning a quick eviction. They are duty bound to get the best result possible for their landlord client. That means a quick eviction or talking the tenant into a bad settlement (for the tenant!). At the Tenants Legal Center, we consistently achieve favorable results/settlements for our clients. Some settlements are even better than winning at trial!
What can I do if I represented myself at trial and lost?
If you lost your case at trial, your options are very limited. You can appeal but statistically that has not been a successful method of post trial procedure. Since appeals are costly with little chance of success, we generally do not handle those matters. There are other procedures available besides appeal including a motion for a new trial. This is difficult but not impossible and we have achieved some success with this procedure. We have also successfully negotiated post trial settlements with the landlord's attorney to vacate (cancel) the judgment even after the tenant lost the case. Under certain circumstances, a motion can be made to reinstate a tenancy with a special post trial petition. These options are available but there are costs and risks involved which may all be avoided by simply retaining an attorney prior to any trial. It is easier to resolve the matter with good legal help than trying to undo the damage after handling the case on your own and losing in court.
What can I do if I made a bad settlement with the Landlord?
It is very difficult (i.e. almost impossible) to undo a settlement made at court, even a bad or unfair one. It will be a binding agreement, in writing, and signed by you and the Judge. In most cases, you even state in court that you understand and agree to the deal. In these cases, you are usually stuck with the settlement. We have had some success renegotiating these bad deals but it is a risk and expense easily avoided. Retain an attorney before the court date and let him/her make a good settlement for you protecting your rights.
California law for Diego is applied in these pages. Such laws may or may not be applicable in other jurisdictions. The information provided herein is of a general nature and is not intended to be taken as specific legal advice. For legal advice in a particular situation, promptly consult with an appropriate attorney