If you have rented or leased an apartment and violate the lease agreement or fail to pay rent, the landlord can evict you from the house by filing an eviction lawsuit. Facing eviction can threaten your enjoyment of life, considering you must find another place to live and incur costs of disconnecting utilities, packaging household items, and moving.

Luckily, California laws protect tenants by requiring landlords to issue eviction notices and accept partial rent payment. So, if you feel the landlord violated particular rules on how and when you were served with a notice or believe you are not in violation of the lease agreement, you can consult with an eviction attorney to defend your rights. The definition of eviction defense and common defenses you can apply to contest the action in court is discussed below.

Reasons for Eviction in Los Angeles

Before discussing eviction defenses, it’s critical to understand the reason for it in the first place. In California, the only way a landlord can evict you is by filing an eviction notice called an unlawful detainer (UD). The civil action begins with a summons which is a notice that you have violated the lease agreement or not paid rent. If you don’t file a response within a particular duration, the landlord will obtain an automatic judgment, and you will be evicted. Also, the lawsuit includes a complaint which is the reason for the eviction. The common reasons a landlord can take eviction action include:

  • You, as the tenant, fail to pay rent.
  • When you allow the rental apartment to be used for criminal activity
  • If you have violated the law of tenancy and refused to correct the violations even after a summons.
  • Harboring pets or unlawful individuals against the lease contract
  • If you are causing property damage
  • If the landlord seeks in good faith to renovate, demolish or permanently remove the rental from the housing unit.
  • If the landlord wants to repossess the rental unit for them, their spouse, or children to occupy

If you are behind in paying rent, you will obtain a notice from the landlord informing you to pay the balance or leave. The notice will indicate that you have three days to clear the arrears or move out of the rental unit. If you don’t pay the rent within this time, the landlord can take civil action to evict you from the property.

Similarly, you could be evicted for violation of a lease agreement. Here, you will obtain a three-day notice after the landlord has learned about the violation requesting you to comply with the lease agreement or leave. If you fail to comply or correct the agreement, then you will face eviction.

The Eviction Defense Response

A UD is filed in the California superior court of the county in which the rental property is located. For this case, you will file your lawsuit with the Los Angeles County superior court. Once you obtain or are served with an official notice by the landlord that they are suing, you must respond to the complaint to commence the eviction defense process. There are several responses to the notice, and these include:

  1. Motion to Suppress

If the subpoenas and the complaint were served in violation of the law, you could file a motion to suppress the UD. That way, the landlord will be forced to serve you with the summons and complaint afresh and this time in compliance with the law.

  1. Motion to Dismiss

If the summon and complaint are defective, you have several petitions to dismiss options that you could file. For instance, if the reason for the unlawful retainer is rent non-repayment, but it turns out you are not late with your payments, if the petition is successful, the landlord will correct the complaint and file a new lawsuit.

  1. Filing an Answer

The most critical part of your eviction defense is filing an answer which is the response to the UD. If you don’t include a particular eviction defense in your answer, you cannot raise the same during defense in the trial, which is why you must allege all your defenses in the reply when filing a response. The best way to ensure all your defenses are captured in the response is by working closely with an eviction attorney.

Kinds of Evictions and Their Defenses

There are multiple forms of eviction under the unlawful detainer lawsuit, each with distinct forms of defenses. These evictions and their defenses are:

Eviction for not Paying Rent

Most of the tenants evicted from their houses in California are due to failure to pay rent. Therefore, as soon as you are behind with your rent payments, the landlord will commence a UD for not paying rent by issuing you with a notice. The notice states that you have three days to pay the rent arrears or quit the rental house. If you don’t pay the rent within three days or leave the rental unit, then they can officially file a lawsuit for eviction to occur.

However, if you are served with a notice of eviction, in your defense, you can argue that you paid all the rent during the three-day notice; hence the landlord has no reason for pursuing the lawsuit or eviction according to the CCP 1161(2). So, when you pay your rent within the three-day notice, ensure that you request a time-stamped receipt to be used as evidence of rent payment if the landlord decides to proceed with the eviction.

Also, you can argue in your response that you are not incapable of paying rent. Instead, you withheld the money due to the landlord’s not maintaining the property to the standards provided by the law. You can use this affirmative defense if the minimum standards provided in the law for the rental unit are not met, and it’s your reason for not paying rent.

However, to use this defense, you will need a written notice informing the landlord of a defect on their property. The notice must come on time to allow the rental unit owner to perform the necessary repairs. If the landlord doesn’t comply, you can hire a professional to perform the work and then deduct the costs incurred from the rent. If they proceed with the eviction, you can argue that the action taken by the landlord was in retaliation for your appropriate action to withhold rent or deduct the cost of repairs from the rent.

Eviction for Ending Tenancy

Under California CCP 1946, you can terminate your lease contract or tenancy by issuing the landlord a 30-day notice. California CCP 1946.1, on the other hand, requires landlords to give tenants a two-month or 90-day notice. Note that the landlord doesn’t need a complaint or reason for termination, making these cases challenging to fight. If you cannot comply with the notice, the landlord can initiate a UD.

If you are faced with this kind of lawsuit, your eviction attorney can argue that the landlord is acting in retaliation for your rightful action. The defense will work if you acted as a tenant activist by informing relevant government agencies about code violations by the landlord, thus resulting in the 30 or 60-day notification to end the tenancy.

Similarly, you could argue that the notice issued by the landlord was defective and doesn’t provide you with 30 days to terminate the tenancy as provided under CCP 1946.1. The defense will work best if the landlord gives you the notice to quit on the 3rd, indicating you should move out of the rental unit by the 30th of the same month.

Additionally, you can argue that the landlord canceled or waived the notice of termination of tenancy by accepting rent payment during or after issuing you with a notice. For instance, the landlord gives you a notice on the 28th of the month to leave the rental house on the 30th of the following month. In that case, if the landlord accepts partial or full rent amount after the notice, by accepting the money, they quit the notice hence cannot evict you from the unit.

Eviction for Violation of Lease Contract

When renting or leasing a house, you enter into a contract with the landlord with the terms and conditions of the agreement clearly stated. A typical lease or rental agreement contains the tenant's rules while living in the unit to safeguard the lessor and their property. A violation of any of these rules can trigger an eviction lawsuit. First, the landlord will notify you of the violation and give you three days to correct the breach. Refusal to conform to the notice will result in a UD.

Note that when agreeing with a landlord, it should be in writing and not verbal. The landlord can easily change the terms of an oral contract, but the terms can’t be changed if it’s in written form.

If you face eviction because of a breach of the agreement, you can use the estoppel defense by arguing that you discussed the breach with the landlord and agreed that it was no longer an issue after the notice. For example, if you were keeping a pet against the lease agreement, you can claim that you discussed the issue with the landlord, and they gave you the go-ahead to keep the pet; hence you were no longer in violation of the contract.

Besides, you can assert in the response that the landlord accepted rent payment during or after the expiry of the notice; hence the eviction cannot occur.

Furthermore, the landlord cannot continue with the eviction if you cured the violations within the three-day notice.

Eviction After Foreclosure

Eviction after foreclosure falls into two classifications. The first involves the property owner defaulting on a bank loan, and the property is foreclosed and auctioned. If this happens and a new owner acquires the property, they can commence the eviction process by serving the existing property owner with a three-day notice to vacate as per California CCP 1161a. The notice is distinct from all other notices because the only option is to leave the property.

The other category of foreclosure applies to the tenant. The new landlord issues the property occupants with a three-day notice to vacate even if they make timely rent payments. However, the new landlord must follow the due process of the law when terminating the tenancy, meaning if your lease had a fixed duration, you would continue living in the unit until the duration lapses.

When defending against this kind of eviction, you can claim that the lender conducting the foreclosure or the new landlord failed to notify the existing occupants of the house that it is being foreclosed by posting a notice on the door or sending a first-class mail.

Also, you can claim that you are a good tenant, but you weren’t served with a ninety-day notice of eviction, which makes the notice defective or improper.

Eviction for Tenancy at Will

If you have lived on a property for an unlimited time without paying rent, it’s called a tenancy at will. Under CCP 789, you only need a thirty-day notice to vacate the premises regardless of the duration of stay.

To defend against this type of eviction, you can argue that the notice is improper because it doesn’t provide you with actual thirty days to quit.

Other Eviction Defenses

Apart from the defenses mentioned above, you can argue that the landlord attempted a self-help eviction by not following the proper channels provided by the law for an eviction. If the landlord shut down utilities or changed the locks for the doors, you can even sue for the damages.

Also, landlords must follow the law during an eviction, and if the law is not followed to the letter, the court is likely to declare the eviction invalid, and the process will start afresh. However, you should note that this defense will only delay the eviction but not stop it entirely.

Find an Experienced Eviction Attorney Near Me

If you violate your lease agreement or fail to pay rent, your landlord can initiate an eviction proceeding known as an unlawful detainer, which will see you lose your home. However, under particular circumstances, you can defend against the action with the help of an eviction attorney. At Los Angeles Eviction Attorney, we are here to help if you have legal questions regarding your eviction case and advise you accordingly. Reach out to us today at 310-695-5536 for a free consultation.