TENANTS LEGAL CENTER
 
OF SAN DIEGO

Using Self Help
(trying to defend a case yourself)

           

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Shouldn't we all have equal rights with the court system?

Of course we should, but we don't.  It is a noble goal to afford all citizens equal rights with our courts.  In a perfect world, we would not need lawyers to interpret and use the law to protect our rights.  All persons, rich and poor, would have equal rights and equal treatment by the judicial system.  Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.  The system is very complicated and good legal assistance and representation can easily make the difference between winning and losing any case.  Justice only comes with power and power comes from having a good attorney. You need only look to the news on TV. or read the newspaper to see numerous examples of this. We all know that people with powerful attorneys have very different results in almost any court proceeding than those without such power.

Can I use Self Help tools to protect my rights in legal matters?

Education is very important.  Knowledge is power, but to a limited degree. The law is very much like the health field.  There are many things we can do on our own to protect and promote our health but when we are truly sick, we need to see a doctor.  In the law, there are things we can do to protect our rights without needing a lawyer.  For example, we can be sure to read  and understand documents before signing them.   We can put oral agreements in writing so they can be enforced   When problems arise, we can document them and send letters to confirm problems or conversations about resolving them.  However, when legal documents are served or when action is threatened or commenced, it is time to get specialized legal assistance right away.  If you attempt to "self help" after this point, you can easily say or do something (or fail to do something) that will cause the permanent loss of valuable rights.

Can I just do my own legal research and follow a book's advice?

Educating oneself in any area of the law is commendable.  The problem with Landlord-Tenant law is that the world of books or online help sites and the real world of courts do not always agree.  Many times a book or web site may tell you that there is a law or procedure available but not how it may or may not apply to your specific situation in the real world.  Using such resources to learn about your rights is a good thing, but acting on that research without legal advice is just too risky.  Your idea of uninhabitable conditions may be a landlord's idea of a luxury accommodation.  Your idea to withhold the rent may be met with an eviction lawsuit where a judge may not agree with your idea of habitability meaning that you lose.  Your feeling that a landlord who does not pay the mortgage should not be able to get rent may backfire if you act improperly on such a feeling.  Many times, there are no second chances once a mistake is made.

What should I do when served with an Eviction lawsuit (Unlawful Detainer)

You should seek assistance immediately. You must defend your rights or you will lose them.!!   If you qualify for free assistance (low income), contact the free Legal Aid office in your area.  If you do not qualify or want private personalized assistance, contact a local attorney experienced in these matters.  The Attorneys at the Tenants Legal Center assist individuals on a daily basis faced with such situations.  If you have an ANSWER (response) the eviction prepared for you by a free agency, be sure to check if they will represent you at trial.  If so, that is fine.  If not, you  should NOT GO TO COURT BY YOURSELF hoping the paper will fully protect you.  It will not.  We have had many calls from individuals who had the responsive papers (ANSWERS) prepared for them, gone to court by themselves, and had very bad consequences.  These include losing the case and being evicted as well as being coerced into signing a very bad settlement by the opposing attorney.  See GOING TO COURT.

Can't I prepare my own Answer to an eviction case using self help materials?

The simple answer is that you should not.  There are various "self help" publications and programs available which are valuable tools to help understand what is going on with these situations, but they cannot handle a case.   Although many of them will tell you the basic law, they generally do not give you the greater view of how those rights work in the real world along with the risks involved.   They lack the ability to individually evaluate your unique specific situation and render individual advice.   Computer programs, machines or devices that offer to help you "do it yourself" are very dangerous and NOT recommended.  These systems include certain predetermined "rights" or defenses that may have nothing to do with your case.  Some defenses, if raised, can actually hurt your case.  Others will not apply to you even though they seem like they should.  These "official" looking responses only lull you into a false sense of security that you have responded properly when, in fact you have not..  As to using these methods, you will have better luck with a slot machine than one of these.    Self help books and computer generated responses to evictions cannot replace an experienced attorney.   Seek legal assistance right away if you receive court eviction papers!  These cases are too important to risk losing your rights, your home and your ability to be able to rent places in the future.

What else is wrong with using self help materials?

These materials,  form books, computer programs or devices are unable to
do the following
(which are all important in handling a case);

-Read and evaluate the eviction notice of the landlord (or a bank) to check for defects. 
-Analyze situations where there are more than one notice where one may cancel out another.
-Analyze situations where there are past notices which can affect later ones. 
-Research the landlord to see if he/she is properly named as the Plaintiff. 
-Read letters and notes from the landlord or a bank which may dramatically change the nature of the case. 
-Review photos and listen to or view recordings.
-Review past history of the landlord or of the bank if a foreclosure is involved.
-Make tactical decisions in handling a case.
-Make tactical decisions about what NOT to put in your court papers.
-Make tactical decisions in working toward a settlement with a win - win outcome while still protecting your rights. 

Self help materials seem like a cheap and easy way to go but it is not.  Self help methods of responding to or defending eviction cases have spelled doom for almost all tenants who have tried that system.  It is like drinking salt water when you are thirsty.  It may help for the moment, but things will only get worse. 

Should I use a "Paralegal"?

A "Paralegal" who offers services directly without working in a law office under the direct supervision of an attorney is suspicious and should be avoided.  They are NOT allowed to practice law and often do so improperly at your peril.  They make promises of getting benefits by merely filling out forms. They cannot give legal advice.  They cannot represent you in a court eviction case. They cannot help you in make critical planning decisions about which legal course you should take to protect your rights.  The problem is that without the specific legal training of an Attorney, a poorly completed form or ill advised action can cause you much harm and expense.  Would you allow a clerk to pick your medicine instead of the doctor because the clerk claimed to charge less?  Of course not.  The irony is that many so called paralegals charge more than qualified attorneys but offer vastly inadequate and dangerous services. They sell you on paying big fees and make a lot of promises they cannot keep. It is doubtful if they comply with the legal requirements to be called a Paralegal.  See the WARNING about using them. They do not carry any insurance to protect you and if they improperly prepare any documents, you are stuck on your own trying to dig out of the mess they have gotten you into, at your expense.


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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