Monday, February 16, 2015

Judges with agendas

In California, if a tenant has not paid the rent, and the apartment has substantial habitability problems affecting the tenant's health and/or safety, the judge can order a rent reduction if the tenant had complained about the problem to the landlord, and the landlord had not taken action to correct the problem in a reasonable amount of time.  Thirty days is considered a reasonable time, barring extreme circumstances.

If the judge finds a substantial habitability problem and the landlord did nothing to correct it after reasonable notice, most judges will reduce the rent somewhere around 25-50%.  So for example, if the rent was $1000 per month, the rent would be reduced to $500-750 per month and the tenant required to pay that amount within five days of the trial.

I watched a colleague conduct a trial in X county for non-payment of rent, and the tenant complained about habitability problems.  However, in paying close attention to the "evidence" presented by the tenant, the MOST egregious problem was a sooty thumbprint left on a door jamb by the landlord's maintenance worker.

Yes, that was the MOST egregious problem.

Now anyone with half a brain, which apparently did not include this judge, would have determined that a sooty thumbprint was NOT a "substantial" problem affecting health and safety.  This landlord did NOT appear to be a slumlord.  But this judge, presumably just wanting to give this tenant another chance to pay the rent, pronounced a habitability judgment, reducing the rent by only ONE DOLLAR and giving the tenant five days to pay the new total.

Now I don't know about you, but if the problem [a sooty thumbprint is a problem?] was only sufficiently serious to warrant a one-dollar rent reduction, how can that be deemed "substantial"?

Lots of bad things can happen to a landlord if the court renders a habitability judgment, including being unfairly labeled a slumlord and the responsibility to pay the tenant's attorney fees.  Fortunately for this landlord, the tenant didn't have the money [which is why he stopped paying the rent in the first place], so when he didn't pay the new total within five days, the landlord was granted judgment.

And some people think justice is blind in X county.  Unfortunately for landlords and plaintiff's counsel in X county, this is not an isolated trial result or an isolated instance of judicial bias.


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