Dennis Block is an eviction attorney in Los Angeles with over 39 years of experience in the field. He serves as an attorney through his own firm Dennis P. Block and Associates. Through his firm he specializes in tenant evictions from both residential and commercial properties. Since 1976 they have handled over 175,000 evictions and are currently the leader in law firms dealing with evictions.
- Have the laws changed in the last 40 years and geared more toward tenants or owners?
- How was the eviction business effected by 2008’s excess of foreclosures?
- Where is the sense of entitlement when evicting an owner versus a tenant?
- What are the different problems landlords can run into with tenants, and how do they handle them?
- How long has “cash for keys” been around?
- What is the process of rent control and what issues could this cause?
Bruce Norris is joined this week by Dennis Block. Dennis has exclusively represented landlords for the past 40 years. His firm is the leading eviction and collection firm in the state of California. His firm is comprised of 15 attorneys, all specializing in this area of law. His clients range from bother commercial and residential property-owners to federal government, municipalities, and banking institutions. His firm has handled over 200,000 evictions to date.
Bruce asked if in his 40 years working the laws have changed considerably as far as leaning toward tenants or owners. Dennis said it has changed dramatically. Dealing with the liberal persuasion of the politicians, they have seen instituted every single protection that one can imagine in favor of the tenant. The landlord is under the burden of having to go through so many regulations and rules in order to manage his own property. There are likely people who think they will do the eviction themselves, which Dennis said procedurally evictions are difficult. There are many issues involved that it is very easy for a landlord filing their own eviction to make a mistake. 90% of the time you will make a mistake and have to start all over again, so it is really not worth it.
Bruce asked about the foreclosure glut that started in 2008 and how this effected the eviction business. Bruce asked if there was a big difference evicting a former owner versus a tenant. Dennis said he did a lot of foreclosure evictions where the homeowner does not pay his mortgage payment and has been foreclosed upon. Even though he has lost a property, he still refuses to leave. Usually people who had not made a mortgage payment in 2-3 years and went forward with the foreclosure process had very little equity in the house to begin. You then run into having to start an eviction case, so every protection could be for the people being evicted.
Bruce asked when he was evicting an owner versus a tenant who did not pay, was there more or less a sense of entitlement. Bruce buys at trustee sales, and it has been an interesting transformation of the expectation of the person. Dennis usually finds the entitlement attitude is more on the tenant side than on the previous owner side. They have done a lot of both types of evictions, but the homeowner will do anything he can to stave off the eviction. The sense of entitlement and thinking they do not have to pay the rent if something is wrong with their place is the attitude they see in reference to those two types of parties.
Most of this goes to court, although he does not know what the procedure is since he has done it very rarely. Bruce asked if there is any liability for when people say things that are not true. Dennis said there is nothing, and you have people in bold-faced lies committing perjury in terms of the statements they make in court or statements they have mailed. Dennis said they do not receive those documents and they are basically one lie after another. Bruce wondered if this has always been the case, which Dennis said unfortunately it is. It is difficult for the judges because they are seeing both parties. One is lying through their teeth, and one is being upright. Sometimes bad things happen when the judge picks the wrong party.
Bruce gave an example of someone buying a property and discovering it was re-keyed by somebody who had just moved into it. This is something Dennis said he sees all the time as well. The scenario is you have a vacant house you are prepping to sell, and when you come to the property you see a family living there. The person says they are the tenant and pay the rent there. Then the owner will say they are the owner and wonder to whom the rent gets paid. They will then say who they pay the rent to and show a rental agreement. Your first thought will be to call the police because the people are trespassing in your home. The police will come out there, interview the people, and in most cases the police will do nothing. They will say it is a civil matter. People will then call Dennis, and his company will file an unlawful detainer. In this particular case it is called a forcible detainer, so Dennis will have to go through a regular eviction case to evict somebody from your own property. It would be like somebody walking into a bank and robbing it, and the bank owner has to go through a legal procedure just to evict the person from the bank. It is insane.
Nonetheless, as soon as they show up in the property and close the door, they have rights. If you call the police and they believe there is a trespasser, on some occasions they will tell them to leave the house immediately or they will be arrested. If the occupant hangs with their story and says they have a rental agreement and paid their rent, in some cases it could be true. It has happened before where they put an ad on Craigslist or somewhere on a property they had nothing to do with, and as people came up to it they took their deposit money and showed them the premise. They spent the day collecting the deposit money and possibly even rented it out. The person in the property is the one who may truly be the victim. In any event, even though the person paid for the property they did not own it since the property was not from the person to whom you paid the money.
Bruce said a lot of the circumstances he has mentioned on here happened to him as an investor. He asked about if he were to consider buying a unit and the property manager is running a meth lab. You want them gone quickly, so Bruce wondered how you would go about doing this quickly and efficiently. Dennis said if you can prove illegal behavior and they are not arrested, you could serve a 3-day notice to quit based on illegal conduct. You would then proceed forward with the eviction. However, the eviction is not a one-day thing. The audience should know an eviction moving quickly is 4-6 weeks if they do not fight it and wait for the owner to be put in position of the property. If they fight them, then Dennis would have to have a trial date and you would be looking at 8-10 weeks. It does elongate the time period.
Bruce asked about an existing 4-plex where the owner has a meth lab. How would the people in a connected building be involved? Dennis said he does not know if there is any obligation on the part of the owner to talk about the illegal conduct of one tenant. Generally this would not spill out into violence with other residents, but you need to have that person off the property. Bruce asked about the cleanup process in that particular unit. If the person is evicted or leaves, you now have a former meth lab unit and Bruce wondered how you would clean this up. Dennis said there is no disclosure any future tenants. You did your due diligence and cleaned it up, and that is it. There are some notifications, such as when the person in the unit passes away. For three years, the property owner has to inform the residents who could potentially occupy the property that there was a death inside. However, there is no requirement if there was illegal conduct in the unit.
Bruce asked about a rare instance where you are renting a home, come back, and in that time period there major improvements on the property. They may have spent $10 grand on the fence and did not pay the supplier or contractor. Dennis said in this case you can have a mechanics lien on the property, and they can hold the property-owner responsible. Bruce wondered if the person would have some liability if they left.
Bruce asked about if he leased a property to somebody, and a few months later he has to exit the property. He asked if he had any right to do this, or would the tenant have more control here? His example here is if you lease a property for one year, the tenant moves in, then because of an emergency situation you have to sell the property. Bruce wondered if you have any right to sell it. Dennis said the landlord has every right to sell the property, but unfortunately they are selling the property with a one-year lease. The tenant can sit there for one year unless he has done something wrong. The buyer would be buying that property with subject to that lease agreement. Many times that is fine with the buyer, other times they may want to sit on it for a while. They would collect the rent from the owner, then at the end of the year they make a decision about what to do with it.
If the purchaser intends to move in immediately, the above property would not be the one for them. What you can do is a buy-out. You would say you know you leased the property for a year and when they can stay until; but tell them if they leave by the end of the month you would do something in return for them. It would depend on what the property is worth and would have to be a mutual agreement between the parties as to when they will get out and how much they will pay on the early termination.
Bruce asked how long ago the term “cash for keys” became almost universally known. Dennis said it has been around since he has been working in the field, so at least for the last 40 years. Bruce did not realize it was that well-entrenched since this seems to be the first thing out of people’s mouths. The interesting thing is when we are talking about a rent control property since this is a whole other subject in regard to foreclosing on people and tenant rights. Bruce has had clients who purchased LA properties and have tenants in place. Some buy at trustee sales and have had a hard time even getting information. It is an insane law that puts people buying property in a foreclosure into such a bad potential position.
One issue could be you drive by a duplex you know will go up for auction. It looks good and happens to be in Los Angeles, where a duplex built prior to 1978 will be subject to rent control. It is a known fact that it is under rent control. If it looks like a good price to you and you buy it, then you see the tenants are already there. In this case you want the tenants in order to have them pay rent. You knock on the door and show them your deed, the tenant looks at the paperwork, agrees, you ask their name, and the tenant does not respond. They won’t answer any of your questions, not even about how much rent they are paying. In this situation where they will not tell you anything what the rent is per month. This is all sanctioned, and there is nothing under the law that says this person needs to tell you who he is. This is a difficult situation that happens all the time.
Another scenario is they will tell you your name and they are under rent control. However, when asked what rent they are paying, they will say they are paying a much lower rent than they should be paying. This is when the landlord will ask the tenant to show them their rental agreement. They will then say they do not have one and that it was all a verbal agreement. They will not even show proof of payment because they will claim they paid all cash per month. The landlord will ask for a receipt, and they will say they were never given one. The landlord now has this property with two rent control tenants, and they are claiming a much lower rent for a nice market-value apartment. In order to disprove them, you can say the value is much more than what you are paying and anybody can see this, but this does not mean anything and does not work like this. What works is what you can prove. When you walk into a court of law and the only evidence you have is saying the price does not sound right or make sense, then the tenant will win.
In the first situation where he does not even tell you his name, Dennis said he can at least look up properties in his system to see who is there, as long as they have been living there for a while. In that situation, if the person will not say he is a tenant then they will presume he was a friend or relative of the owner. In that situation, he will put forward a three-day notice for a straight foreclosure eviction. He will then go forward with the foreclosure action to evict them from the property. He might try to defend the lawsuit, but at this point he has him committed as to what he is and will ask him for proof of any payments. In that situation he might try to convince the previous owner to say who this tenant is and pay them. Once they figure out the rent, they may have to dismiss the eviction since it was based on a foreclosure eviction. They would then start all over on a non-payment of rent. If the quiet occupant does not defend the lawsuit, then Dennis may kick him off the property and go forward with an uncontested matter.
In the second situation, this one is really tough. Other than going forward with the lawsuit and suing for a reasonable value, there is not much you can do. He will defend the lawsuit, and when this happens Dennis will ask for proof of any bank accounts and see where money has come and gone. He wants to see what he has really withdrawn. He will try to find the previous owner and subpoena or depose that person to try to get the story out. It is difficult with the way the law is written when people are not playing the game fairly. Those who write the laws do not understand that the majority of the people in society will abuse it.
When marijuana laws in California were started, the hype was that people would need it for three purposes only: terminal cancer, AIDs, or glaucoma. This was it. 99.9% of the people with the license do not really have this problem, they just want to smoke marijuana. People write laws, and it is difficult to deal with them. Dennis said when dealing with people sometimes he has to be clever and find out where they are lying. Sometimes he sees a phony lease and put, for example, a 1992 date on it when the copyright of the lease is 2002. The rent control issues are being used as a sword rather than a shield because people are manipulating it.
In another example, an investor is at a foreclosure sale of a single-family home in Los Angeles. Single-family homes are not under rent-control and you would not need to deal with the tenant issues. Of course when you knock on the tenant’s door, they will say they have a 99 year lease and are paying a lower lease. In this case you do not have a problem because the law says the lease has to be reasonable lease of reasonable market value. You are not dealing with rent control because you are dealing with a single-family residence. In this situation the lease would be declared void, and under California law they would serve them a 90-day notice to leave. The lease would not be considered valid since it is a 5-6 year lease with a very low rent. The court would look at this, evaluate the rental value of the property, and throw it out.
Although this is not an issue, what about the fact that you buy this single-family house and there is a tenant who is on a month-month-tenancy. This is not the issue itself. The problem is when you find out that the previous owner was desperate to have additional revenue and converted the rear guest house into another unit or put a wall down the center of the house to create a duplex out of it. He is then renting it as two separate units. They manipulated it to where you can now have a property that is under rent control when it could not be prior.
Tune in Saturday as Bruce and Dennis return to this subject matter on part two of the radio broadcast with Dennis Block. For more information you can visit his website at www.evict123.com.
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