By Andrea Cavanaugh

Cristina rented her Santa Monica apartment about ten years ago. A new owner recently bought the building. She started getting a lot of three-day notices to correct problems, even though the prior owner never had any issues with her. Then one day, Cristina was served with an eviction lawsuit. The landlord claimed she was causing a nuisance because her dog was barking during the day. She wasn’t sure how to respond, so she called the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division.

We gave Cristina some information about evictions, which are also called Unlawful Detainers, or UDs. The City Attorney’s Office doesn’t represent individuals, so we advised her to get some legal representation. One resource for low- and moderate-income Santa Monica residents is the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. You can visit their Self-Help Center at the Santa Monica Courthouse, or call (310) 899-6200. Another resource is the Santa Monica Bar Association’s referral line, at (310) 581-5163. They connect people with local attorneys for a low-cost consultation. We always recommend that you hire a lawyer if you’re facing an eviction.

If your landlord serves you with an eviction notice, you have only five days (including weekends and holidays) to file an “answer” with the court. If you don’t, the landlord may get a default judgment, and you could be locked out of the unit almost immediately.

In Cristina’s case, she was able to successfully fight the eviction. Her attorney pointed out that the landlord had not given a written warning about the dog in time to correct the problem before serving her with a three-day notice – all required by law. Additionally, the attorney pointed out that Cristina wasn’t aware the dog was barking until she got the three-day notice. Once she became aware of the problem, Cristina took immediate steps to solve it. But by then, the landlord had already filed an eviction against her.

You can be proactive about avoiding eviction in the first place. It’s important to pay rent on time and follow the rental agreement to the letter. Even if the time frame of the original lease has expired, the other terms of the agreement remain in force. If you receive a warning or a three-day notice, correct the problem immediately or tell the landlord in writing why you think the notice is incorrect.

If you receive a 30- or 60-day notice to move out, know your rights! Santa Monica has what’s known as just-cause eviction protection, which means landlords can only evict for non-payment of rent, a material violation of the rental agreement, or other limited reasons. They can’t terminate a tenancy with just a notice. If the landlord harasses you to get you to move out, that’s against the law in Santa Monica and you should contact our office.

If you’re a Santa Monica resident and have questions about evictions or landlord-tenant law, call the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division at (310) 458-8336, or visit smconsumer.org

The Consumer Protection Division of the City Attorney’s Office enforces the law and educates the public about tenants’ rights, fair housing, consumer protection, and other issues. They can be reached at 310-458-8336 or smconsumer.org. ANDREA CAVANAUGH is a Consumer Specialist with the City Attorney’s office.

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