By Avi Sinai, Esq.
This is a story about the worst case of a ‘professional tenant’ in my professional career. Over $100k in unpaid rent, over 9 months of litigation, jury trial, appeal, countless motions, and a lot of bad faith.
My client visits her property after the tenants notified her they are moving out. It’s an apartment in Santa Monica, 3-Bedrooms with hardwood floors, ten blocks to the beach. Rent at the time was about $3700/m (market rate was about $5,500).
She opens the door and is greeted by an unknown occupant, a middle-aged woman who says ‘she is living here, that’s my house’. She won’t leave, the police are called but they can’t do anything. “Civil matter – you have to evict her.” So this is where I come in.
Turns out one of the former tenants subleased one of the rooms for extra cash and did not notify my client. The occupant was so obnoxious and rude, all the rest of the tents fled elsewhere shortly after she moved in. They found her on CraigsList.
The occupant only paid the first month rent, but did not make a single rent payment after she moved in late 2021.We had to wait until the moratorium was over to file an eviction (March 2023). The moratorium restricted evictions not just on unpaid rent, it also protected ‘unauthorized occupants’ from eviction. My client could not inspect the unit for more than 2 years since refusal to access the property was also protected under the moratorium.
After we filed the eviction, the tenant got free help from a local non-profit, which represented her zealously and aggressively.
A list of what we fought in litigation:
- Motion for judgment on the pleadings
- 64 document requests; 51 special interrogatories; 31 RFAs, and a total of almost 230 discovery requests.
- 4 different requests to delay the trial date, 1 emergency request to delay so the defendant can attend a voluntary “math bootcamp” at a local community college.
- 9 months of litigation
- Jury trial – the defense initially requested 5 days(!) for the trial. Luckily the judge pushed the case through, and we did it in less than 1.5 days.
Every offer to settle and gain possession in litigation was rejected by the lawyers for the Defendant. In mediation, the only offer she would consider is full waiver of the rent ($80,000 at the time) and a new lease, for $1300/m, with veto power on who will be her roommates. My client rejected that offer and we went to trial.
On the day of the scheduled jury trial, after confirming with opposing counsel in writing of Defendant’s availability – turns out she couldn’t make it since she was vacationing in Mexico and her return flight delayed, so trial got delayed again, despite pleading to the judge to move forward with the trial.
At trial, Defendant perjured herself repeatedly on the stand, defamed me, defamed my client, admitted to committing fraud, and testified for several hours in a 1.5-day trial.
Defendant had 2 lawyers represent her in the trial, and they objected to every Plaintiff’s verdict form, and almost every piece of evidence presented by the landlord. The defense even objected to their own exhibits to enter into evidence, once it was clear those documents were detrimental to their defense.
Defendant’s lawyers removed each and every property owner juror from the panel. We ended with a panel of 100% renters.
On the stand, Defendant admitted to taking close to $9,000 in covid-19 rent aid, pocketing the check, forging the paperwork, and not giving it to the landlord. She still has the money to this day.
Jury gave a unanimous verdict, for the Plaintiff, possession and damages.
In the weeks after the trial, the tenant continued to file or attempt to file multiple emergency motions to reverse the judgment. I received 13 different post-trial, ex-parte notices of motions to delay or cancel the lockout from the defendant.
She got 2 actual hearings to vacate the judgment on the court’s calendar, both were rejected by the judge.
Due to a severe shortage of manpower in the County’s Sheriff office, it took 9 weeks from the moment we submitted the writ of possession until we got the sheriff to show up. 2.5 months after the jury verdict.
Day of the lockout
Sheriff officers show up. We have a locksmith ready. Despite her being in the unit – she refused to let the sheriff officers inside. They had to break the door with a ram (see picture). For absolutely no reason, just another way to cost the landlord more money.
She continued to stay in the unit, arguing for about 45 minutes on why she should stay. Didn’t help – she was evicted and now out of the unit.
Once we walked into the unit, we were shocked at how well she lived. When you don’t have to pay for rent for 2 years, you have plenty of money to spend on other things.
I should add, the Defendant filed an appeal, which is still ongoing, although in default. Thankfully, an appeal of a UD judgment does not stay the lockout.
The Defendant attempted to break back into the unit 3 weeks after the lockout. Luckily there were workers there to block her path. Police showed up again, and we had to bring paperwork to prove she was trespassing.
This ‘professional tenant’ is well versed in the eviction legal system. Based on our research, we found out she went through 4 different evictions in the past 12 years. All followed the same pattern – jury trial, lies, fraud, appeal, violence, and trespassing.
After one of these evictions, she called a locksmith to break in back into the unit. Police got involved and arrested her for trespassing after the landlord presented evidence. That was 10 years ago.
Recently, I received an email from the City Attorney’s Office, inquiring about how my office violated a ‘court order’ and my client was harassing the now evicted tenant. The lawyer from the city wanted to get on a call and discuss.
I asked the city attorney what evidence he had to initiate the call and make those allegations. He said “None. I am just checking since the tenant called us a lot, we have to verify those claims”. After explaining to him what transpired he assured me the investigation will go nowhere.
This is not the first time the City Attorney’s Office contacts me without evidence. When I asked the lawyer for the city why they are placing the burden on the landlord to prove there was no harassment or violation – he insisted they are not. He could not provide an answer why he didn’t ask the tenant for proof before contacting me.
The non-profit that represented the tenant dropped her after the jury trial. In one of the motions the tenant filed on her own to reverse the judgment, she then had the ultimate hutzpah to ask the judge to reverse the judgment as a result of her lawyers malpractice.
She went as far as attaching email communications she had with her lawyers, waving her att-client privilege. In the emails she attached to the motion her lawyers begged her to settle before trial, however the tenant just refused.
Other various reasons she cited as support for reversing the judgment – her disabilities (she listed a dozen, all mental health related), COVID-19, the war in Israel, her part-time status as a 55-year-old community college student, and the “pro-business city council of Santa Monica”.
This is not even the full story
A lot was not included, for many reasons. This tenant will not face any consequences. She has no assets, no income, no family, and no career prospects. There is zero chance to collect any of the $25k judgment against her (remember – most of the rent owed was during covid, so we had to sue for that amount separately). I said it before – there are zero consequences for not paying rent in LA. I mean that literally. You can not pay rent, delay proceedings for months, and it would still make sense for the landlord to settle with you before trial, waive the rent, seal the record, and even offer you move out costs. Zero consequences.
Tenants deserve protections. But we have to ask ourselves at what point these legal burdens/costs are pushing mom and pop landlords out of the business. If Los Angeles wants only ruthless private equity landlords, this is a surefire way to get there.
Avi Sinai started to practice law in 2011, focusing on business and real estate transactions. Through aggressive representation of his clients mainly in the commercial real estate field – he helped solve clients’ needs outside the court and helped them avoid future litigation.
Our goal is to create value for our clients. We believe that legal fees should provide a positive return on investment to our clients. This is what guides every decision we make, and what helps us grow and expand our customer base all of Los Angeles and Orange County.
Mr. Sinai has written extensively on all matters of landlord-tenant law and commercial real estate in several national and local publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Santa Monica Mirror, and the Huffington Post. To learn more about Sinai Law Firm visit: https://sinailawfirm.com