Nuisance Evictions: Not as easy as you think

Most big cities in and around the Bay or Los Angeles have some form of rent control, which usually includes a Just Cause Ordinance of some kind. This ordinance limits the reasons a landlord can evict a tenant, and anyone who is trying to deal with an eviction case should know that these ordinances are extremely controversial. The ordinance in Berkeley, for example, was originally passed in 1980, but it's been revised many, many times, both by court cases and by local initiative. These ordinances are usually fairly restrictive, and sometimes landlords believe that a nuisance eviction is a faster way through. 

A nuisance eviction is an eviction in which the landlord claims that the tenant is either 1. creating such a continuous and serious nuisance, in terms of noise or aggressive behavior or similar, that the neighboring tenants are seriously affected, and thus the landlord is justified in bringing an eviction, or: 2. the tenant is violating the law, and the landlord can therefore evict them quickly. 

In truth, in most big cities, nuisance evictions are not nearly as quick as they look. First, an eviction based on a tenant that's so noisy and disruptive that it's a huge problem to other tenants needs to be proved, and this is extremely hard to do, not for legal reasons, but for practical ones. To be able to go to trial, these tenants need to be subpoenaed to appear at trial, and trial essentially never happens when it's scheduled to happen. Severe resource shortages have led the courts to cut back essential staff, and as a result, you can expect at least one reset of trial, and more if the tenant is smart enough to request a jury trial. Getting two or three neighbors to attend multiple days of trial is often not realistic, particularly when you can count one at least one day being eaten up with last-minute settlement efforts. Consider also how tenants who've been dragged into court on someone else's case will think of the landlord in the future. 

Similarly, most Just Cause ordinances are written to be as protective for tenants as possible. Berkeley's ordinance, as written, seems to require written notice to cease a nuisance, even where the nuisance is illegal activity. We recently won a case for a tenant on this, and notably, this ordinance of Berkeley's is probably not really legal. State law probably preempts here, but as of the date of writing, the Appellate Court hasn't ruled on this. So, for the moment, you do have to serve (and prove) written notice to cease when evicting a tenant for illegal activity in Berkeley. A landlord could, possibly, win by bringing a case without written notice and then appealing, but again, this would take an incredible amount of time, and shockingly, would also require bringing your own court reporter. They're no longer provided by the court in Alameda, so currently judgments are, in practical terms, un-appealable. 

Thus, if you're thinking of bringing a case for nuisance eviction, it's crucial to hire a firm that's not only experienced in evictions, but flexible. Often, a nuisance case should be filed with separate, independent causes of action, such as material breach of lease terms, so that you can proceed on a back-up theory if, for example, a crucial witness doesn't make it to the third reschedule of trial. 

If you have a nuisance eviction case to bring or defend, consider contacting Verbeck Law for a quote, and an expert assessment of the hurdles your case will file in the current judicial climate. Eviction is a particularly fast-moving field, and as we often say, 20 years of doing evictions in San Francisco is worth exactly nothing if you're trying to bring an unconventional eviction case in Alameda. Get someone who knows the facts on the ground, particularly for hard things like nuisance.