August 17, 2018 • By Dennis Beaver
“We are high school teachers and will retire next year. Our accountant warned, “As California’s pension obligations are badly underfunded, consider an additional revenue source, such as becoming landlords and buying a small, single family home.’
“But friends warned us about owners trying to evict deadbeat tenants who hire law firms which sue the landlord. To get them out, owners have to pay thousands of dollars and allow months of rent-free occupancy. Is this just an urban legend or is it true, and if true, what kind of a lawyer represents a deadbeat tenant and then sues the landlord? Thanks, “Terry” and “Melissa,” Hanford readers.
It’s no urban legend.
It’s true and is much like those lawyers who use the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) to commit legal extortion, forcing businesses to pay them thousands of dollars for what is most often minor nothing violations.
In California cities with Rent Control laws, the same kind of morally challenged attorneys abuse the legal system, enriching themselves while encouraging what amounts to theft of not just money, but housing from mom and pop landlords.
It is immorality on an industrial scale, as you will see.
Deadbeat tenants get a free lawyer in California
Who hasn’t heard this statement?
“You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”
Repeated thousands of time daily in courts across our country, it was the 1963 Gideon Supreme Court case which established the right to free legal representation for criminal defendants who are unable to afford a lawyer and face the possibility of incarceration. That’s a good thing.
But have you heard of California’s Shriver Civil Counsel Act?
My guess is that hardly anyone reading our story has. Enacted in 2009, the Act funds “Payment to lawyers, at taxpayer expense, to represent low-income parties in civil matters involving critical issues affecting basic human needs, including probate, guardianship, child custody, domestic violence, and housing.”
So, even a serial, con, deadbeat tenant who repeatedly moves in and does not pay the rent gets a free lawyer when sued for eviction.
To “Patti”, a Los Angeles-based 20-year veteran property manager, “There are dramatic consequences that your readers must be aware of if they acquire property in rent controlled areas of the state.”
Here’s how landlords are victimized:
• Lawyers paid with Shriver Act funds drag out evictions for months, allowing tenants to occupy the rental unit and not pay a dime.
• To recover possession of their property, landlords are forced to pay thousands of dollars to these lawyers. “This is extortion,” Patti believes.
Ever hear of a jury trial in an eviction case?
“Historically,” she explained, “When a tenant stopped paying rent or violated terms of a rental agreement in some other way, the landlord would file an eviction lawsuit, have it served on the tenant who frequently would do nothing – not file an answer – and in a matter of weeks the case would be heard before a judge. This way rental units could rapidly become available for to new tenants.”
But something happened to landlord-tenant law in the 15 California cities with Rent Control, and that something is a law firm going by the name Basta –meaning enough in Spanish – founded by attorney Daniel Bramzon. He found a way of using California law to force landlords – often victims of crooked tenants – to pay Bramzon and his client’s thousands of dollars to get the tenant to move. And here’s how he did it:
Bramzon discovered the court system’s Achilles Heel, which is demanding jury trials for all of the tenants his firm represented. This was as powerful as the “No!” scene in “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Even when the tenant has no credible defense to the lawsuit, there is still a right to a jury trial, and merely asking for one adds months to the eviction process.
Basta is not alone as legal aid and several tenant law firms do the same, yet Bramzon is credited for the creation of an eviction defense industry which rips off landlords while rewarding crooked tenants.
What is this doing to housing in California?
And what are the consequences of these tactics to California’s housing shortage?
“Mom and pop rentals have decreased and our housing shortage is worsening. If Proposition 10 passes, the entire state of California will be under rent control, and mom and pop landlords will vanish,” she strongly maintains.
Finally, everyone we interviewed for this article – attorneys and property managers alike had the identical advice for all landlords, “Limit the award of attorney fees to $500 in your lease which discourages these morally challenged lawyers from messing with you.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.