How to sue your landlord in small claims court

Los Angeles- Commentary

January 28, 2019

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The only thing better than suing someone is getting a money judgment in your favor. The process vs the actual win. I heard someone say that. The process of filing a lawsuit is costly and timely and you are never guaranteed to win. One of the things you can demand in court is “nominal damages” which mean the court could award you $1.00 which if it happens, it could open the door to thousands of dollars in punitive damages. Unfortunately courts rarely award nominal damages and they certainly do not award “equitable” or “equal” relief damages. Just my experience. (See the Judge’s Oath below)

We will never have enough law enforcement people to enforce the law, so in this so-called civilized society, we depend on voluntary compliance with the law. I am not a favorite of the civil court system (as opposed to criminal court system) because on the whole it is biased in favor of the big guy with the big bucks. But this article will not be about the “why” of using the court system because that will be your choice to roll the dice because of money, vengeance, or otherwise. In this article I do not recommend the state or federal courts because of the time and money involved. But I have been there. So if you have to go there, that is your choice. You will have a chance at bigger rewards. I am also of the belief that most landlords act in a good faith, reasonable manner in compliance with the law,  and should not have to be sued.

Why small claims court?

I will explain this scenario and leave it at that. You are faced with a landlord who is harassing you and denying you housing services like parking and repairs. The city government has been no help to you. A friend sued his landlord over an illegal rent increase but he lost in court. Three months later he was still faced with an illegal rent increase so he sued his landlord again in small claims court. This time he won. The ruling awarded him damages even though the previous ruling was against him. The court ruled that he could sue again because he was harmed by “continuing” damages of continuing to pay rent while the landlord damaged him.

So you decide you will do the same.

You file the lawsuit in small claims court for about $120.00. You name as defendants the owner, management company, resident manager, and maintenance person, at extra costs, and for each defendant you have to pay about $35  for service by a professional process server. You research that you cannot use an attorney in court, but neither can the other side, so that will avoid the payment of the defendant’s attorney fees if you lose. You make a demand on the owner which includes rent you have continued to pay and other related damages. You file suit electronically and a court date is set. At court, the Judge fails to award you damages. But you continue to pay rent and the owner continues to deny you maintenance and available parking. Two months later you sue him again. Each time it takes about two-three months by the time the case is heard and judgment is issued. You have now sued the owner six times in small claims court but have not won any money. You are now thinking about suing in a higher court.

 

28 U.S. Code § 453 – Oaths of justices and judges

“Each justice or judge of the United States shall take the following oath or affirmation before performing the duties of his office: ‘I, ___ ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as ___ under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.’ ”

 

Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal advice nor is it legal advice. I am not a licensed attorney. It is not meant to be a substitute for doing adequate legal research. There are plenty of online sites on how to use small claims court procedures. There are even sample small claims lawsuits online. One of the cons of small claims court is that there is no transcript of the procedures. But one pro is that you can with a little work request a jury trial. But if you decide to try your hand at state or federal court, the process is more tedious and may require filing lots of documents and stretch out for months or years. The odds will be in your favor that you will lose, even with an attorney. Finally, remember the receipts are you damages like your rent payments, parking tickets if they apply, fees you paid to an online attorney for legal advice, etc. — anything related to costs you incurred trying to remedy the housing services you are suing your landlord for. Remember all landlords (residential or commercial) need good tenants, otherwise they would not make any profits.

 

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