August 15, 2009
Legal Aid of Sonoma County doesn’t generally handle landlords but in cases where the landlord meets our financial requirements, we do handle landlords. In one such case, with a non-English-speaking landlord, attorney Richard Koman represented the landlords at trial. The defendant claimed that her friends had paid her rent in two separate payments. But since she failed to present any witnesses to back up her story, her defense had no weight with the court. She presented a receipt, which she said was the only receipt she had received from landlords. But as this was for a different month than the landlords claimed, the judge found it irrelevant. The plaintiffs presented receipts for all payments made in order to show lack of payment.
On this basis, the landlords may have won their case. But Legal Aid of Sonoma County went further. Attorney Koman examined the landlord, established a foundation for his testimony, and elicited testimony from the landlord. He conceded that he received $500 on behalf of the tenant but not the remaining $1,000. The court awarded possession of the premises to landlord, plus damages of $1,000. Legal Aid staff handled the writ of execution.
August 15, 2009
Feb. 18, 2009 — Legal Aid of Sonoma County volunteer attorney Richard Koman successfully defended a family in an unlawful detainer action against them. The family — two parents and four small children — have been living for two years in a house apparently infested with mold and rats. The family regularly bleached and painted the walls to hold back the mold at their own expense but could no longer afford to do so after the father lost work as a painter. The family had to abadon the bedrooms because they were so infested with mold and were all camped out in the front room of the house.
The family had ceased paying rent in November 2008 and the landlady brought an unlawful detainer suit against them. In a hearing before Judge Mark Tansil of the Sonoma County Superior Court, Koman showed the court that the landlord’s suit must be dismissed because it alleged thousands more than were actually due. The court gave the tenants three weeks to vacate and dismissed the suit, pending a review hearing that they actually move out.
A note to tenants: The court did not consider the family’s habitability claims because they never made a complaint in writing about conditions. The family was afraid of losing housing so they didn’t complain. While many tenants might have similar fears, the lesson is that you can’t assert your rights if you don’t create a record of the problems!