by Ian Barlow, Robert Bullock, Alexa Delwiche, and Montgomery Lin
For full report click here.
About 200,000 unlawful detainer (eviction) cases are filed annually in the
California court system. Most of the tenant-defendants, about 4% of
California’s renters, lose their cases and are evicted by the end of the litigation
process. In addition, uncounted numbers of tenants move after being served with
eviction notices, but before unlawful detainer cases are filed.
The status quo produces too many avoidable evictions at too high a cost. Being forced to move is expensive for tenants and for society as a whole. Displaced tenants may move into overcrowded or substandard conditions just to have any shelter at all. In some ways, however, losing an unlawful detainer case (UD) is much worse for tenants than simply heeding the initial eviction notice and vacating.
While a tenant may gain more time by contesting the UD, she will likely have to move anyway after she loses, but finding replacement housing will be more difficult because of the negative credit ramifications of losing.
UDs are also costly for landlords and the court system. When tenants who
have received eviction notices do not vacate voluntarily, landlords incur legal
fees and other costs. The court system must intervene, spending a significant
amount of resources on processing UDs. Rather than investing time and money to
pursue a UD, these costs could be reduced if a landlord and tenant were able to
reach a mutually beneficial agreement during the notice period.
Some evictions and their associated costs are avoidable; even when eviction is unavoidable, its costs could be reduced. At least in economic terms, tenants and landlords are acting irrationally when they pursue unnecessary UDs. Better policies that help parties avoid unnecessary UDs will allow potential mutual gains to be realized.
Our goals in making policy recommendations are to reduce the involuntary displacement of tenants in California, avoid unnecessary UDs, and reduce the costs involved in these processes, all without decreasing the incentives of tenants to comply with their rental agreements. While there are theoretically many ways to address these problems, we make our policy recommendations keeping political constraints in mind.
That is, our package of proposals is designed to be broadly acceptable to both landlord and tenant interest groups so that neither will block them in the California State Legislature. We conclude that the list of recommendations set out below would be the most feasible and effective UD reform. These recommendations should first be implemented in the form of a one-county pilot program for the purpose of collecting data, evaluating the program, and determining which policies should be expanded statewide.
Landlords and tenants have a common interest in reducing the costs involved
with the UD process. Our goal for this pilot program is to demonstrate an
improved process and reveal this underlying interest. Our policy
recommendations focus on three broad areas for reform both before and during
the UD process.
The recommendations to be included in the pilot program, and the problems they are intended to address,
are as follows:
The current eviction notice process is inadequate. It fails to provide either enough information or enough time for landlords and tenants to resolve their disputes without going to court.
• Require more effective language on notices so more tenants will comply with proper notices.
• Establish longer notice periods in some types of cases.
• Create a variety of notice periods, making them relate more directly to the nature of the underlying
The current system provides insufficient incentives for parties to resolve disputes before, or earlier in, the unlawful detainer process.
• Create a mediation process for those cases that could be handled more efficiently and equitably than they are in the current system.
• Create incentives for the parties to reach agreements through mediation and protect tenants’ credit records.
Substandard housing conditions are not properly considered by judges as a defense to nonpayment cases.
• Create a better process for habitability cases that prioritizes using available resources on the most serious cases.
To reiterate, we recommend a pilot program to implement these recommendations for two reasons:
1. It is currently more politically feasible than adopting all of these policies statewide; and
2. It would allow an opportunity to collect data to measure the outcomes of the new policies.
The large number of evictions and inefficiencies in the UD process impose too many costs on landlords,
tenants, and the court system. Implementing these recommendations will help prevent avoidable evictions,
reduce the number of UDs, and therefore allow for more efficient processing of the remaining UDs.