WSJ: The Hostile Occupation of Carlos Lopez’s House


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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77 Responses

  1. Some of our close friends live here in NC, but have a rental house in the Portland, OR area. Not only did their renter stop paying rent, but also hired contractor to significantly modify the property, then when they took eviction action countersued to be reimbursed for those expenses. The tenant isn’t paying anything out of pocket for this, while the owners are not only paying court fees, but also the lose of income from the property. They will eventually win but at great cost and aggravation. Fortunately had only a good experience in renting a home out while I was overseas, but glad that is done and plan on never doing it again.Report

  2. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Its funny how we treat cases like this differently than conventional civil disputes.

    Like when a property owner refuses to pay a contractor, and the case takes months, sometimes years to resolve as the defendant uses every legal trick to delay, stall, and drag their feet before the inevitable payment.Report

    • At least when a contractor isn’t getting paid, they can stop providing the service. In these cases, we’re not just talking about non-payment but also the ability to continue to live in the house (and depriving the owner the ability to make money renting) the property to someone else. The back-rent is only a part of the equation, and the worse the situation gets the smaller the part becomes.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman says:

        Its fairly common for small contractors to be driven into bankruptcy by large clients who stiff them.
        There are millions of cases like this where two small unsophisticated people engage in a transaction, and one of them defaults or reneges.

        It always comes as a shock to the plaintiff that there isn’t an avenging angel with a flaming sword standing by at the local courthouse ready to provide instant karmic justice to the wrongdoer.

        Yes, it seems like an outrage that someone who is likely a serial con artist is allowed to have their day in court and drag things out. I wouldn’t feel any different if this was a slumlord who refused to fix a leaky roof.

        This story is one of those motte-and-bailey outrage stories that is pressed into service of a larger narrative, in this case to drum up support for landlords against tenants.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          …drum up support for landlords against tenants.

          Last I heard, California was suffering from a lack of landlords, not an over abundance.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Then certain strands of liberals weep about how expensive rental property is, and how hard it is for poor people or people with bad to no rental history is to get a rental property.Report

          • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to North says:

            Yep. But the higher the eviction rate, the lower the homeless rate.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:


            Is there any version of your liberalism that believes the best way to help the poor is by curtailing the power of the already powerful?

            Jesse points to how quickly the overwhelmingly number of housing court cases get resolved in less than 2 months. Also that most of them get resolved in the landlord’s favor.

            How is it that we say “the best way to help the poor and/or elderly with rent is to be absolutely and mercilessly in favor of the quick brutality of the landlord’s eviction?”

            I can’t stay by a liberalism that believes the best way to help the poor is to always be asskissing to the rich and letting slumlords get away with everything.

            There has to be a way to prevent squatting like this and also smack down on landlords without scruples.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              There has to be a way to prevent squatting like this and also smack down on landlords without scruples.

              The former is also doing the later.

              There are a lot more people who can’t/don’t make their rent than there are landlords because the entry threshold is so much lower. If the former are spamming the system, then they’re also crowding out tenants with legit problems.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              Certainly Saul, I am liberal after all, not libertarian:
              -I am generally in favor of absentee owner vacant property fines/taxes.
              -I firmly support building safety codes (yeah it can get out of hand sure, but so can anything)
              -I’m greatly in favor of encouraging lots of denser building (which very greatly afflicts the wealthy landowners who want to keep their urban neighborhoods single family)
              -I’m mildly in favor of requiring developers to build a certain amount of lower market housing as a condition for building luxury housing (I’m unsure if it truly helps but it’s not particularly distortionary)
              -I’m in favor of cities building and renting out affordable housing on their own dime (if they can get the electoral support to do it then power to them!)

              What I’m not in favor of is distorting low thought policies that supposedly hurt the rich but mostly just fish over the poor while letting a small lottery of poor people become a wealthy privileged class (yeah because they ever move out of those rent controlled estates). Especially when the policies try to do it on the cheap while ignoring the brutal costs like rent control, eviction restrictions and the like. That shit is candy for the rich land owners: they generally aren’t landlords, it discourages development in their tony neighborhoods and it lets them contentedly tell themselves they’re helping out the poor-elsewhere emphasis on the elsewhere.Report

    • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Chip, that does suck for the contractor who gets stiffed. The reasons evictions are even worse for landlords are: 1) The tenant gets a free attorney, unlike the deadbeat property owner in your scenario. Yes, attorneys represent *defendants* on contingency in California. Which brings us to 2) At least the stiffed contractor doesn’t have to give money to the property owner. In the unique CA system, the free defense attorney uses a jury demand as leverage, and jury trial can run upwards of $20,000 in legal fees for the landlord.Then, typically, they tell the landlord that in, they want $4,000, plus forgiveness of all back rent, plus 60-90 more free stay, and a sealed judgment so future landlords can’t find the eviction. No record. Sometimes they even demand a signed reference letter that says they’re current on rent.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Sheila Tone says:

        Where do we see any civil dispute taking less than tens of thousands and months to settle?

        And why should we assume that landlords are not as liable to be in the wrong as tenants?Report

        • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Chip, one reason evictions are (in theory) treated differently than other civil disputes is that the tenant is in the home while it’s litigated, so the landlord’s damages keep mounting. And, the amounts required for full-blown litigation usually outstrip the rent at issue.
          The other reason is that society has an interest in pushing out bad tenants, so good tenants can get that housing. Letting a deadbeat stay free doesn’t *create* any more housing. It just rewards the deadbeat at the expense of other potential tenants. Thus, resulting in higher rental costs overall.

          Third, there in fact *are* many lawsuits that are resolved quickly and cheaply — small claims, and limited jurisdiction. Unfortinately, neither of those restrictions are used for evictions in California.

          Why do you think a landlord would file eviction for non-payment if a tenant hadn’t paid? Because he wants to dump his paying clients? And if you really think that’s a problem, how would you feel about having the allegedly non-paying tenants deposit the rent into a court account while litigation is ongoing? That’s how they do it in other states. That way, baseless litigation isn’t a way to get out of paying rent.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Sheila Tone says:

            Yes, I get that.
            When I have threatened to refuse to provide drawings to a nonpaying client, I get accused of holding “their” drawings hostage. Or when a contractor lays down his tools and refuses to finish a half completed job, the owner is again held hostage.

            I’m not opposed to escrow rent accounts or even modifications.

            What sparked my skepticism is the notion that somehow landlords are an aggrieved class.

            For every scammer tenant, I could summon up a scare story of slumlords extorting rent from indigent clients who dare to complain about rats biting their children’s toes.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              I should probably say, that I am not unsympathetic to property owners.

              I work for a development company and have seen how when you own a property, it beckons like a pot of gold to every scam artist and hungry striver who is aiming to get a piece of it.

              But see, here is the thing- those scammers are every bit as likely to be a fellow property owner as a cheating tenant.

              Examples I have actually seen-
              Because of your construction activity, the business to my restaurant is down /
              my basement is leaking/
              my building has settled/
              and I am suing;

              And amazingly enough, the damages are always in that fuzzy zone of five digits, where it is just below the threshold of being worth a fight.

              Not to mention contractors underbidding, then halfway through extorting massive change orders to finish the job.

              And on and on.

              So my biggest beef with the WSJ article isn’t that it never happens, but that they are using a flimsy pretext to strengthen the hand of landlords over tenants, ignoring the much larger problem of peer to peer extortion in the business world.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                ignoring the much larger problem of peer to peer extortion in the business world.

                I am all in favor of legal reform, it’d help a lot of problems (defensive medicine for one example of many).

                However I think we’re no where close to having that happen in general… and I’d think this whole thing with the landlords plays a role in reducing the housing supply which is fueling CA’s homeless problem.

                IMHO there’s an argument for bringing CA’s various anti-housing/anti-landlord rules into line with what the rest of the country is doing.Report

            • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              Really, Chip — you could summon up 1.5 million rat-nibbling stories, to counter the 1.5 million evictions in the state each year? What state do you live in? I’ve never had a rat-nibbling case, or anything close. A couple times I lost because there was a documented roof leak if the plumbing was spotty. But that was *never* why the tenants hadn’t paid the rent! They hadn’t paid because they didn’t have the money.
              Nonpaying CA tenants nearly always try to defend on habitability. That’s because it’s a legal defense, whereas not having the money isn’t. Legal aid explains this to them. But they rarely have any evidence of complaints, or any evidence of problems beyond their say-so. If there are issues, the tenants often cause them — mold in the shower, cockroaches because they keep a filthy home and won’t allow in an exterminator. If there were real problems, they’d withold the rent and complain *before* the landlord gave them notice. They never do. It’s just a way to fight. That’s why other states litigate nonpayment separately from habitability.Report

          • Sheila, how much of this do you think would be fixed with the escrow thing? Seems like a pretty straightforward solution to some of the problem.

            And the other main problem seems to be the financial incentives of the lawyers. What ideas do you have or have you heard for addressing that?Report

            • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Will Truman says:

              To remove the financial incentive , we have to end jury trial for evictions and simplify the related discovery processes. No other state has that, and we didn’t vote for it. It was an unintended consequence of a 2005 Supreme Court case that had nothing to do with evictions.

              And yes, a lot of the problem would be fixed by the escrow accounts, because tenants would have to pay rent while they litigated the case. Right now, answering buys them months of free rent.Report

  3. Avatar Aaron David says:

    First, this is how you get more Trump.

    Second, there is a reason I have a property management company handle my rental house. Aside from getting me a better rate due to a much more informed market analysis, I can farm problems like this out, to a certain degree. Oh, and background checks? This is why they exist.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Aaron David says:

      Hmmm. So this is how we get a prez who can pardon himself and cannot be indicted for any crime so is effectively above the law. Yeah i can see that.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Aaron David says:

      First, this is how you get more Trump.

      Yes, clearly, the problems with squatters was foremost in mind of Trump voters.

      Or I suppose, since California is particularly prone to this problem (as noted), the way California went so heavily for Trump is further proof!.

      Oh wait, no, none of those things are true.

      I will admit randomly spouting things without evidence, argument, or even a connection to the event in question does seem to have worked out for Trump, so that might be indeed how you get Trump!Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Morat20 says:

        What happens in California does not stay in California. You are, what, in Texas? And you are reading this? So is every other online Texan, on-the-fence Republican, on-the-fence landlord, and on, and on, and on.

        But as we watch Trump’s approval ratings get higher than we were “spouted” to, I think I am in good shape.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Aaron David says:

          So you can’t even specify how this is how you get Trump, and then go on to act like a 44% approval rating is a good thing in a strong, peacetime economy.

          Also, I find it freaking hilarious you think 99% of the voting population will ever actually hear about this story, or that any of the remaining 1% will actually care enough to make it decide who they vote for.Report

          • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Morat20 says:

            I quote myself: “No, using the power of the government – “The difference this time was that the squatter had an attorney, provided by a state-funded nonprofit whose mission is to reduce evictions. “- used against a law-abiding citizen.

            If you need it further spelled out, as more and more often gov’t monies are used to hurt law-abiding citizens, and more and more of these law abiding citizens become aware of it, they will be drawn to a politician who they feel will help them. And, as I have shown, as Trump’s approval rating is steadily rising people are becoming more agreeable to him. He has been normalized. And again, people read things like this, maybe not this specific article, but others like it. We do, they do, everyone does. Do we know what happens in Flint? A local story? Yes, we do, as we read on the internet, not just here, but other websites, with other stories, and (hopefully) other opinions.

            Now, if you think I am so wrong here, please, by all means, show me how this won’t help Trump, how normies will start to think “by gosh these advocates are out to help me.”Report

            • Avatar pillsy in reply to Aaron David says:

              If you need it further spelled out, as more and more often gov’t monies are used to hurt law-abiding citizens, and more and more of these law abiding citizens become aware of it, they will be drawn to a politician who they feel will help them.

              Wasn’t it just a couple weeks ago that Trump was suggesting deportation as a punishment for protesting government employees shooting people for no reason?Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Aaron David says:

          Yeah Trump sure did run the electoral tables with his small government/slash social programs platform. No doubt his base thought “boy I sure am mad about people ripping off honest business owners and defaulting on their obligations, I should vote one into the presidency.”Report

    • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Aaron David says:

      Aaron, the problem with background checks is that many evictions don’t come up — they’re sealed. Now, if you have a nice property, you can afford to be picky about credit ratings. But when renting to poorer people, the relevant issue is eviction history. And it’s the poorer people and the low-income housing that are the relevant issues to homelessness.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Sheila Tone says:

        This is all very true. My experience is renting to college students (co-signed by parents) or pricing above that market. (My mom owned a prop management company in a college town.)Report

  4. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    The difference this time was that the squatter had an attorney, provided by a state-funded nonprofit whose mission is to reduce evictions.

    You would think a non-profit would not be willing to take the case of a serial squatter, if only to avoid the bad PR.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I had an otherwise friendly dog who was firmly convinced Rabbits were totally Evil and should be killed on sight, just because they’re rabbits.

      This is a dispute with a Landlord, therefore the Landlord is wrong, or has to spend months to years proving he’s right. It’s the Principal of the thing.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

        therefore the Landlord is wrong, or has to spend months to years proving he’s right.

        This is how the business world works.
        My company is in a dispute right now with one of our contractors who did work for us 2 years ago.
        We are still refusing to pay, he is refusing to take a haircut, and although we are probably going to settle, that is months away still.

        And yes, he went bankrupt as a result of our nonpayment.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          My company is in a dispute right now with one of our contractors who did work for us 2 years ago.

          My expectation is at some point he was allowed to stop rendering to you his services.

          The nasty thing here is the business relationship is current and ongoing.Report

      • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Dark Matter says:

        Dark Matter, this is probably what a very loud, aggressive minority does think. But nearly everyone
        I’ve spoken to who’s dealt with this or understands it, regardless of politics, is horrified at the situation. No one likes cheaters. These bad apples are cheating and being rewarded for it, at the expense of honest tenants who would like to rent those properties.Report

    • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      We don’t know what defendants *tell* their attorneys. Its highly unlikely she presented herself as a serial squatter. It’s also highly unlikely that legal aid attorneys do background checks on their clients before deciding whether to help them. A tenant comes in with a sad story, and the legal aid lawyer’s job is to consider whether he can use the law to help her. In California, the answer will always be yes. Regardless of the facts, the defendant ‘s attorney can jack up the litigation price with a jury demand enough that it makes more sense to give the tenant money and free rent to leave.Report

  5. Avatar Jesse says:

    The idea that tenant court is somehow too pro-tenant is amazing, but of course, perfectly makes sense to be written up in the WSJ.

    It’s amazing people think it’s need to be even easier to kick people out of their apartments when in reality, 75% of actual eviction cases in California are resolved within 45 days, incomparable to actual civil litigation, but of course, 80% of tenants don’t even have a lawyer so they can never question their eviction.

    But, I guess all of that is just too much trouble for capital, who should not be constrained or questioned in any way at all. That’s not even mentioning the judges who are often landlords themselves. I mean, evictions are so difficult in California that….*squints*….1.5 million evictions were done between 2014 and 2016 in California.

    Or, if you want to read about the horror that poor landlords have to go through in New York –

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jesse says:

      A quote I saw over at Crooked Timber, to the effect that for authoritarians, there should be one class that the law protects but does not bind, and another class that the law binds but does not protect.Report

    • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Jesse says:

      Jesse, thanks for the link. But those statistics are misleading. I do these cases, so I’ve got some experience with the system. The only evictions that take 45 days are ones that go by default, where no tenant answers the complaint. And that 45 day estimate doesn’t count the 30-plus days it takes law enforcement to actually make the tenants leave after the eviction.
      Most evictions aren’t public record. The ones that are: 1) defaults (most of the count); 2) ones that are litigated and go to judgment, either through a bench trial or jury trial. This leaves out the vast majority of cases, which are settled confidentially.
      Once a defendant files an answer, any answer, even a blank one — the case is set for trial about 60 days out. The court rules require 20 days, but courts are too congested to keep up with that.
      Defendants in large cities have legal aid stations in courthouses that prepare the answers for them. No qualifying needed. There is no such help for landlords. So, while the defendants may not show up to the hearing with a lawyer at their side, they’ve still been coached on what defenses won’t work (“I don’t have the money” is not a legal defense), and which will (“Bad conditions exist” on the property.)
      The problem isn’t that tenants have their day in court, or even that they have attorneys. The problem is this unique situation in California that allows defendants to demand *jury* trials, instead of everyone just telling his story to a judge. Jury trial are massively more expensive than bench trials. It simply doesn’t make financial sense to pay $20,000 in legal fees for a home being rented for $1,000 monthly.
      California didn’t vote for this. It was the unintended side effect of a state supreme Court case that ended jury waivers in contracts. Then, attorneys discovered they could make money representing defendants for free, and taking a cut of the several thousand dollars they demand in settlement for the tenant to agree to leave. Any tenant can do this.Report

      • Avatar Jesse in reply to Sheila Tone says:

        “Defendants in large cities have legal aid stations in courthouses that prepare the answers for them. No qualifying needed. There is no such help for landlords. ”

        Yes, this is true. OJ Simpson also didn’t get a legal aid lawyer, because like landlords, he could afford an attorney to tell him what to say in court. It seems what you’re upset about is that legal aid stations help lower the massive dis-equitable levels of power between landlord and tenant.

        Also, what you see as a problem – the ability to have jury trials, I see as a positive. I don’t think it’s a good thing that people who are just looking for a place to live have to waive their right to a jury trial. I also think forced arbitration is a bad thing as well, and hopefully in the future, that will be ended as well.

        As for your complaint about jammed up dockets, that sure sounds like a reason for landlords to support higher taxes to pay for more eviction judges to me.Report

        • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Jesse says:

          Jesse: Do you think there should be any penalty for tenants who don’t pay their rent? Because that’s why 95 percent of my clients file evictions — tenants don’t pay their rent.
          How long do you think a tenant should be able to live for free on a landlord’s property?
          Explain why there’s a massive power imbalance in favor of the *landlord* in this common scenario: A tenant refuses to pay rent. He/she spent the money on other things, and doesn’t have it. Landlord files a three day notice to pay rent or quit. Tenant doesn’t pay.
          Landlord doesn’t have OJ money. He has one extra house he rents out. Landlord pays me $900 to file an eviction lawsuit, most of which goes to filing and service fees. Tenant goes to a free, private attorney who takes his case on contingency, meaning attorney doesn’t get paid unless he gets some money out of the landlord (the landlord who got stiffed on the rent). Defense attorney immmediately sends out discovery, calendars an all-day deposition of the landlord, and demands a jury trial. If landlord wants to fight, he’s looking at $20,000, plus several days of his own time.
          Defense attorney says if he wants to avoid the trial expense, he can pay, say, $4,000 to the tenant, forgive all the back rent owed (usually it’s at least two months, plus the two it takes to get to trial so four), and give the tenant 60 more free days to stay there. Plus the case has to be sealed and the landlord has to provide a reference letter.
          Who does that help except the dishonest, deadbeat tenant? Why do you sympathize with that guy?Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Sheila Tone says:

            I claim a slip and fall on your property and demand $10,000 and a jury trial.

            If landlord wants to fight, he’s looking at $20,000, plus several days of his own time.
            Defense attorney says if he wants to avoid the trial expense, he can pay, say, $5,000 to the claimant plus attorney fees.

            Yes, this is a real thing. It has been around forever.Report

            • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              But in that scenario, the property owner has homeowner’s insurance, which pays for his legal defense. And damages don’t mount due to the trial being extended. Here, every day that goes by is money the landlord is losing and the tenant is gaining.Report

            • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              Actually, no. The plaintiff has to show real, actual damages. Lost wages, hospital bills, etc. Otherwise, it will get laughed out of court.Report

    • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Jesse says:

      And Jesse, it’s too bad that the story is behind a paywall, but further down it cites statistics showing an inverse relationships between evictions and homelessness. California has a low eviction rate compared to most other states, and one of the highest homeless rates. Check out The Eviction Lab at Princeton University (you can compare evictions county by county, or state by state). For homelessness state by state, look at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s site, with the 2017 report on homelessness.
      Evictions are getting lower every year in California and Los Angeles County.Report

      • Avatar Jesse in reply to Sheila Tone says:

        The fact other places are even worse than California on tenants right doesn’t mean people in California shouldn’t push farther for an expansion of tenant rights.

        Also, California has a homeless problem because it’s a nice place lots of people want to move too, even when they don’t have the means and more importantly, forty years of screwed up financial dynamics thanks to the passage of Prop 13 that was supported by homeowners and landlords.

        (Psst – when it comes to the paywall, just open an incognito browser.)Report

  6. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Whenever I hear about a case like this, the landlord is always a person who happens to own a piece of property that they need/want to rent out, but who is not a well heeled landowner with sufficient resources to fight such cases with ease.

    These kinds of tenants, I suspect, know better than to go head to head with a large property management firm, or corporate landlords who have legal staff on hand or retainer. They wok their con on the small owner who has to invest a much, much larger percentage of their wealth to evict the con artist.

    The irony is that by gaming the system like this, they scare off more small land owners who might otherwise be interested in renting their property out. As @will-truman says, it is much easier to evict an Air-BNB tenant who turned south as opposed to someone with a traditional lease.

    This is why I’m wondering why the non-profit took this woman’s case? They have to realize that not only is such a case a PR mess, if the tenant really is a serial squatter, her behavior makes it harder to open up inventory.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      These kinds of tenants, I suspect, know better than to go head to head with a large property management firm, or corporate landlords who have legal staff on hand or retainer.

      It could also be that in the instances when this happens to large property management corporations or the like they either wrap it up quickly (because they have the resources), don’t publicize it (because they don’t want more people to know they can get away with it), or nobody cares because they aren’t particularly sympathetic victims.

      I also think @jesse and @chip-daniels are on to something as an underlying dynamic. Nor do I exactly have to rack my brains to think of people I know personally who’ve been screwed by landlords roughly as badly as these particularly landlords have been screwed by their tenant..Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:

        It is well within the realm of possibility that the laws have gone too far in both directions. Even within a given state. It’s what happens when everyone wants the state to protect their interests from edge cases, and lawmakers want to look like they are doing something.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I think people like the rogue squatter are exceptions to the rule.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            The holdover tennant has existing long enough that they test common law rules about them on bar exams. If there are specific rules about rogue tenants, they aren’t unusual.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            I think rogue squatters are probably less than 1% of tenants in any given market in any given year.

            I think rogue tenants/squatters are such a colossal headache and drain on resources that landlords wanted special rules to make it easier to get rid of them.

            I think a minority of landlords then used those special rules to be dicks to otherwise perfectly decent tenants, or tenants who were good at staying on just this side of the rogue tenant line, such that advocates wanted special rules to protect law abiding, if inconvenient or PITA, tenants.

            And thus the cycle continues…Report

            • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              You’re right Saul, actual squatters are rare. Virtually all evictees are tenants who just don’t pay their rent, and use whatever legal maneuvers they can to extend their free stay and avoid stains on their record. But that is to California’s peculiar system, every one of them can get a free attorney, and jack up litigation costs prohibitively. So, effectively, there is no penalty in California for not paying rent.Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    You should have counterbalanced this with the story about the Brooklyn tenants court and how many people get evicted even if they did nothing wrong.

    There are always going to be bad apples but it always seems like laws that aim to protect the usually more powerless are the ones that need to be guttedReport

    • Avatar Sheila Tone in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Saul, I don’t see tenants getting screwed here. I see people who can’t pay their rent and don’t want to leave. There is lots of sympathetic ink given to their poverty stories, but nothing that shows they’re being cheated by the system. New York slumlords lose their cases in this article.
      Most tenants in California are evicted because they don’t pay rent. You agree that’s fair, right? If you worry it’s a pretext, then the obvious solution is to make them pay rent into a court fund while the case is litigated. Many states do that. It removes the incentive to stall.
      Nearly every tenant I evict is thousands behind on rent. They always try to defend on habitability — not collapsing walls, not rats nibbling kids’ feet, that’s too hard to fake, but trash in the common area, or they say their plumbing isn’t working or no hot water, but have no record of ever complaining to the landlord and no proof but their say-so. They check boxes on the form that the legal aid people give them. If it weren’t for that advice, they’d come into court telling the truth, that they just don’t have the money.
      How do I know this? Because I ask them. “OK, so the reason you didn’t pay rent for three months that is that the place is in bad condition? But you want to stay anyway? (Usually, yes.) Then you must have the rent money somewhere, right? He can fix up the place and you’ll pay?” They never have it. They respond with a sob story unrelated to the condition of the home about why they don’t have the rent. Many of these people, we’ve evicted several times from other homes. They are serial non-payers. This is how they live.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Sheila Tone says:

        You have made it abundantly clear where your sympathies lie.Report

        • Saul,

          The article makes it clear that the cases overwhelmingly involve non-payment of rent. The vast majority because tenants cannot afford to pay rent. It does mention some that are pretextual and most of *those* seem like they spring from rent control. The disturbing subset are the pretextual evictions from tenants who complain… though even those do involve non-payment.

          As Sheila mentions, in the cases where the apartments were being poorly maintained, there is either no mention of how the courts ruled or the courts ruled against the landlord. One landlord was arraigned.

          Per the article, it takes 3-6 months to evict someone for non-payment, often for less than the landlord is legally owed, and in some cases trying to just pay the tenant to go away. (How much of this is because the tenant is bad and how much of it because of rent control, I’m not sure.) It also spends time talking about repeat offenders who are in and out of this court as a means of gaming the system.

          So… I’m not reading this article and seeing the courts as tools of the landlord. It’s not a good state of affairs, though as the article says it seems to be letting everybody down. And, overwhelmingly, it appears that the biggest cause of conflict is people not being able to pay for the apartments they have.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

            It is impossible to say how many evictions are unjust. Many people sued for eviction do owe some back rent, and some tenants certainly abuse the court system, remaining in their apartments for months without paying. For small landlords, such tenants can mean fiscal ruin.

            But an investigation by The New York Times illustrates how the Orbach Group and other mega-landlords exploit a broken and overburdened system. In one of the busiest courts in the nation, errors often go uncaught and dubious allegations go unquestioned. Lawsuits are easy to file but onerous to fight. Landlords have lawyers. Tenants usually don’t, despite a new law that aims to provide free counsel to low-income New Yorkers.

            Landlords rely on what amounts to an eviction machine. A cadre of lawyers handles tens of thousands of cases a year, making money off volume and sometimes manipulating gaps in enforcement to bring questionable cases. Punishable conduct is rarely punished.

            Process servers, required to notify tenants that they are being sued, sometimes violate the law. Among tenants whom servers had supposedly talked to in person, The Times found several who were abroad at the time. One had been dead for years.

            Judges sometimes unwittingly ordered the eviction of tenants who had no idea they had been sued.

            “When they sent the marshal, they never gave us no notice,” said Zanden Alzanden, a Yemeni immigrant who was evicted from his home in the historic Dunbar Apartments in Harlem when he was in the hospital in January 2017. “Nothing on door, ever. Only that day, the marshal coming in, my son and an old guy sitting in there: ‘Boom boom, get the hell out of here.’”


            And yet the solution seems to be just to let them do what they want without impunity because moral hazard is only a thing for the poor.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

              Well, that’s strange. Why would they be trying to evict paying tenants?

              Rent-regulated apartments…

              Ah, of course.

              Among tenants whom servers had supposedly talked to in person, The Times found several who were abroad at the time. One had been dead for years.

              Dead? Is rent control a hereditary privilege now?

              I get that having privilege taken away can be painful, but I don’t see why we should consider it an injustice when people who’ve benefited from this privilege for years or decades have to start paying market rent like the rest of us.Report

            • Okay, this gets us closer to an issue. It focuses on the “pretextual” evictions I refer to previously. Makes it seem like a much bigger issue than the previous one, though relies on wording (“impossible to say”, “many cases”) that make it unclear how big a part of the housing courts part it is.

              In any event, abusing the system is indeed bad. I’m open to steps we can take, but the most obvious one is to stop the policies of rent control and rent stabilization that are causing virtually all of the issues this series is talking about. Fix those, and cases like this stop cluttering up the housing courts, which in turn might allow them to focus more squarely on the rest of the docket.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          What I find fascinating about this comment is the implied moral authority that comes from having sympathies in the right place (and the lack of it from having it in the wrong place).

          Like, to the point where it’s just assumed.

          To the extent that it’s representative of a larger cultural phenomenon, it’s going to be bumpy when the realization that this moral authority isn’t recognized sinks in.Report

  8. I believe this was once used as a plot point on Silicon Valley.Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    We’ve probably already had this story here, but it’s really memorable:

    Apparently, it’s been optioned for a movie.Report