3 day notice grar
February 5, 2015 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Landlord has “applied my payment”, intended for rent, toward a bogus (or at least totally-news-to-me) bill for supposed maintenance services. Now landlord claims my rent is late and left a 3 day notice to pay or quit. I do not want to pay maintenance bill. Details below:

Yes, I am trying to get a lawyer right now. I have had a hell of a time finding a tenant lawyer here in Oakland. I have a binding arbitration agreement in my lease which is perhaps why lawyers have not wanted to work with me. I also called my county Bar Association and was told they are very short on tenant lawyers and of the 4 they contacted for me, none want to work with me. I am still trying to get a lawyer, but in the meantime I am turning to you for suggestions for how to triage this situation until I have a lawyer. Please, do not tell me to hire a lawyer.

I’ve had a poor relationship with my landlord for several years (see previous askmes if you dare). While we didn’t see eye to eye, we were basically OK until she began a pattern that felt in my view intended to annoy and perhaps harass me into moving. Examples:

- Not providing maintenance services. In the most notable example, left broken tile on bathroom floor until my daughter was injured – then she fixed it. I tried unsuccessfully to get a lawyer at that time but again, due perhaps to the arbitration agreement, was not able to find someone to take my case.
- Not fixing a cracked door or providing any added security after a break in (and several break-in attempts)
- Refusing to do basic “nice” things, like ordering big garbage pickup, which is free to her but requires her authorization. I recognize this is her right, just trying to set the scene of the tone in our interactions.

She then gave over the service to a property management company. When they took over, they did some basic repairs that we commonly agreed on. Some I suggested, some they wanted to do. They did not ever state I would be charged for those repairs.

A month later, they sent me a large bill for all those repairs, many of which I never asked for, some of which had not been performed, none of which were supported with documentation in the form of photographs or receipts.

I basically called them on the lack of documentation and they never brought it up again.

Yesterday, I got a 3 day notice to pay rent or quit on my door.

I had paid my rent, cashed on the 30th and the notice was for a random amount – not the amount of my rent. When I asked what the notice was about by email, I was told that I owed money for maintenance and for yard work I hadn’t performed 6 years ago. They said they had applied my last payment (clearly intended for rent) toward this amount I supposedly owe, instead of toward my rent, so I now owe the remaining rent.

They also sent an itemized receipt but no documentation saying that in october they snaked a drain, replaced toilet bolts, and “repaired tub” – none of those things were done as far as I know. He also said I had agreed to do yard work (6 years ago) and had never completed it adequately. This was super weird as when I moved in 7 years ago, I was offered a rent reduction in exchange for yard work. We had this arrangement for about a year. Then the landlord did state she was not satisfied with my work so we got rid of the rent reduction and I stopped doing yard work and I never heard about that again until last night!

I told the property manager to apply my last payment toward my rent, not toward my supposed invoice that they had just made up and never showed me until today. He refused.

(Possible aside but to me supports this idea of harassment: My lease states I may not use common space for storage. Nevertheless, for 7 years I did store a bunch of stuff in the laundry room. They never commented on that or enforced any restriction on my use of the space for that until August. I was then asked to remove everything down to even not leaving laundry soap. At first, I was offered that big garbage pickup in "exchange" for removing my stuff. Then they rescinded and stated it was not an exchange, I simply must do it. After some back and forth, I complied and removed my stuff from laundry room. Today I got an email from the maintenance person contact to remove the big garbage that I had been awaiting pickup for, per our "exchange".)

So now what?

While I wait for a lawyer to agree to work with me, I have this 3 day notice. At what point can this “eviction” be reported (and to who)? What should I make sure I state in writing right away, while I work on this? Anything else I should think of?

I am going to go home and backup all my email when I get home to make sure I don’t lose the “paper trail” of communication.

I am in Oakland, California.
posted by latkes to Law & Government (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Do feel free to recommend specific tenant lawyers in the Bay Area!
posted by latkes at 3:11 PM on February 5, 2015

Have you contacted the oakland tenants union?
posted by royalsong at 3:18 PM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Was your unit built prior to 1983 and hence subject to Oakland's rent control/stabilization laws? If so I suspect your landlord is probably trying to drive you out and rent the place to somebody else at market rate. What does your lease say about maintenance?

Can't help about Oakland lawyers, sorry.
posted by crazy with stars at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2015

If you put Rent in the memo portion of your check and she cashed it, she hasn't got a leg to stand on. Getting people evicted in Oakland requires an awful lot, and it will run to expense on her side in a hot hurry.

I suspect that she's bluffing.

Simply draft a letter to her and have it sent via USPS Certified Mail saying,


I sent $$$ in rent, which was cashed on MM/DD/YYYY, here is a copy of the check (download from your bank). I am unaware of any outstanding bills regarding maintenance on the apartment, and even if there were expenses, they are not mine to incur. As the landlord it is your responsibility to maintain your property and to select the vendors to do so.

Please correct your records immediately.


Basically it's, "Nice try, thank you for playing our game, we have some lovely parting gifts for you."

Frankly, I wouldn't want to keep renting from her, but I'll bet that there's rent stabilization and that you're getting a good deal.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:23 PM on February 5, 2015 [18 favorites]

Are you familiar with Causa Justa? Perhaps they could advise you on this.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:25 PM on February 5, 2015

Response by poster: I did not put "rent" in the subject line. The check was bank-generated. Obviously, since it was for the exact rent amount, their claim is disingenous, but I don't know how far that goes if anywhere.

Rent control does apply to my unit and I agree, she wants me out.

Rents are high here. I want to move, but am trying to wait a bit longer until we can buy.

I have left messages for Just Cause in the past and last time they took over 2 weeks to get back to me. I will try again. My understanding is the Tenants Union is not very active here as it is in SF.

Thanks for all ideas!
posted by latkes at 3:26 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wonder if the East Bay Community Law Center could help, or provide an idea of where to go next?

(Also, ugh: this is terrible, and I'm so sorry. I wonder--and I'm just grasping at straws--whether you need to figure out a way to put that unpaid rent money in escrow ASAP as a show of good faith [to the paper trail you're developing more than to the landlord who is obviously a scumbag].)
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:43 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

You're framing this in terms of who is more "right" or "wrong" or whatever. What counts is what is in your lease. If you signed a lease, your landlord later hired a maintenance company, and nothing about charges for those services was in your lease, then you are not party to these charges.

If you signed a lease that does in fact cover the management company fees, what does the lease say?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:44 PM on February 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

You may have already seen this but it looked like there was good information specific to Oakland at the Just Cause website. They say:
If you receive an illegal eviction notice (one that lists no cause at all, does not leave you enough time, is not in writing, or makes allegations that aren't true), it is NOT valid and you do NOT have to move! You should call CJJC’s Tenants' Rights Clinic immediately at 510-TENANTS (510-836-2687).

So, they may get back to you much faster this time since there is an actual eviction notice involved.

Further down they write:
The eviction process: If the landlord has given you a notice, the time is up, and you have not fixed the problem or left, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit (called an Unlawful Detainer or UD). If you receive a UD, you must find a lawyer IMMEDIATELY - you have only five days to file a response to the lawsuit, and the procedures involved are complicated. The legal eviction process can take anywhere from 3 weeks to a few months....

It is NEVER legal for landlords to do "self-help" evictions - lock you out, turn off utilities, confiscate possessions, etc. If any of these things happen, you should call the police.

posted by metahawk at 3:44 PM on February 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

There are some more resources listed here, including the Eviction Defense Center, although it's not clear from their website whether they actually serve Oakland residents (despite being located here, ironically.)

I'm seeing that California Code of Civil Procedure §2075 gives you the right to a receipt for payment of rent; perhaps that is an avenue to investigate?

Also - is it possible a lawyer or law student at a drop-in clinic could help you draft a response to the notice since it has to be responded to within 5 days?
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:56 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

The landlord's notice is not legally effective if it demands more rent than is actually due, or if it includes any charges other than for past-due rent (for example, late charges, unpaid utility charges, dishonored check fees, or interest).

--CA Department of Consumer Affairs

I think your best argument hinges on the fact that the check you provided is the same amount you've provided every month for however long (get a list of transactions from your bank), which clearly shows that it was intended to go towards rent. The eviction notice is therefore related to nonpayment of maintenance fees, which nullifies it.

Also, if you're not out in three days, she has to go to court to get you out, and that will take a little bit of time. So, you've got more than three days to get a lawyer.

All of this is pretty moot given that you have a binding arbitration clause, though. Who you ought to be looking for is an arbiter, not a lawyer.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:30 PM on February 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Just chiming in to agree with the recommendation of tapir-whorf. If I were in your situation, my first phone call would be to the East Bay Community Law Center. They are exceptionally talented attorneys with a long history of housing law experience. If they cannot help you for whatever reason, do ask them for referrals.
posted by ferdydurke at 5:55 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

All of this is pretty moot given that you have a binding arbitration clause, though. Who you ought to be looking for is an arbiter, not a lawyer.

No, this is not true. You need a lawyer to represent you, even if you end up in arbitration, which seems unlikely.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:23 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Depending on the bank, bill pay can be set up to include a memo on every check. I have set up all my auto pays with a memo line that includes the relevant information, such as "weekly tuition" "Car Pymt 1970 AMG" "Electric Bill" "Mthly Manit Fee Lot 5, 2015"
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 6:50 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

By the way, I don't think that binding arbitration clause is valid: "In Jaramillo v. JH Real Estate Partners, the California Court of Appeals held that a residential tenant cannot validly agree, in a residential lease agreement, to binding arbitration to resolve disputes" (though can agree in a separate agreement from the lease).
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:48 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

How did this turn out? My landlord (also in Oakland, CA) wants us to sign a new lease which includes a clause stating that any payment we give "for rent" can actually be applied to any outstanding debts, and I immediately thought of this situation and got worried.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:17 PM on March 8, 2015

Response by poster: We wrote a strongly worded letter stating, basically:

1. The money we sent was intended for rent.
2. We contest any other charges.
3. Here is why we contest them: (detailed description of how the other charges were a steaming pile of horseshit).

They have not responded nor did they initiate eviction preceding. It’s pretty clear the intent was just to be assholes and make us so uncomfortable that we want to move out.

In terms of advising others in a similar situation, we tried calling a lot of nonprofits (most of which are listed in this thread) and private lawyers. I got a small amount of help over the phone from Just Cause (but not much). I had the most help from an acquaintance who is a lawyer and who told us how to word the letter.

That sucks, needs more cowbell ):
posted by latkes at 12:16 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For NMC and others in the future: The one thing I didn't try but would next time is Lawyers in the Library. They post the schedule on the Oakland Public Library website and they rotate around the different branches. Also, Your Legal Rights radio show on KALW has Call a Lawyer Night.
posted by latkes at 12:18 PM on March 9, 2015

Thank you so much for the follow-up! I'm glad that your situation turned out (reasonably/under the circumstances) OK. I'm not sure my landlord is being malicious at all in this (in general it is very hard to tell if they are clueless or plotting something potentially bad) but I definitely want to cover my bases since I see that this particular clause could potentially become a big huge deal.

In general I think it's a shame that there isn't anything /quite/ equivalent to the SF Tenants' Union in Oakland. They are such a good resource for this stuff in SF.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:18 PM on March 9, 2015

« Older A 'statistically valid sample' is ... ?   |   Rock Paper Scissors Tournet Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.