TENANTS LEGAL CENTER
Even "innocent" people can be served with an Unlawful Detainer.
If served with court papers, you should not avoid the matter. Failing to respond properly and timely means that you are officially admitting "guilt" and are agreeing to be evicted with a long term bad credit record. Just moving out (or moving your business out) to avoid a Sheriff lockout will not help at all. In fact, it only makes matters worse. Running from this problem will not work. Tenants facing court eviction must take the matter seriously and act promptly to protect valuable rights. Remember, if served with UNLAWFUL DETAINER papers, you MUST respond timely (5 days if personally served) or you will LOSE the case and be evicted, even if you are innocent!!
If served with an Unlawful Detainer, you should not rely solely on any self help system. Self representation almost always results in losing the case regardless of the tenant's "innocence" of the charges. Self help computer programs, forms or devices look official and seem to be the right thing to do but they are not. Such self help responses to Unlawful Detainers will mislead and allow the tenant to select and include worthless defenses or, even worse, defenses that actually cause the loss of the case. Landlord lawyers routinely take advantage of these tenants in court. Tenants show up in court with their self help prepared papers and are either intimidated to agree to a very bad settlement or they just go in front of the judge and promptly lose the case.
In any court eviction case, it is very important to seek professional legal assistance. We see that about 99% of tenants who have done their own court response papers, even with official looking computer assistance devices and then appear in court themselves, lose their case or agree to a bad settlement. This is true regardless of how good their case was. The legal system is just not set up to give an unrepresented tenant a fair trial. There are too many technicalities and other factors involved. This is a sad but true fact. To see for yourself, simply visit any eviction trial department and watch the tenants representing themselves either (quickly) lose their cases or agree to bad settlements in the landlords favor. After losing at a trial, they leave the court wondering what just happened and cannot understand how they lost. They ask why it is so unfair. The other tenants who agreed to bad settlements leave the courthouse not knowing just how bad that deal was. With good legal help, the results are opposite. There are several attorney assistance options available to you. There are free clinics to those who qualify (i.e. legal aid, USD Legal Clinic, Volunteer Lawyers of San Diego). There are also low cost legal services available. At the Tenants Legal Center, we win or settle (with a dismissal), better than 98% of all our eviction defense cases.
Beware of eviction "assistance" outfits. There are many self appointed "paralegals" who profess to render "legal" services at a "low cost" or "cheap" rate. We have seen the work of these outfits. Universally, we have seen incompetent and dangerous services performed where the only goal was to stall an eviction while sacrificing the tenants rights in the process. Simply filling out papers without attention to the proper and technical protection of fragile rights is very unfortunate for the unsuspecting tenant who will ultimately lose their rights. They also create an antagonistic environment with the landlord making reaching a favorable settlement difficult to impossible. What is even worse is that these outfits do not have cheap prices at all! Many times, they charge much more than attorneys!! Stay far away from them.
Responding to an eviction on your own in an emergency. To protect your rights, you must file a response within the time required by law. If you don't, you will lose the case automatically (by default). If you cannot get to an attorney in time, you may be forced to prepare a response on your own using any self help material or forms available. If you do this, promptly take your filed response papers to a qualified attorney for review. It is anticipated that the attorney will need to promptly prepare and file an amended (corrected) response to protect your rights. Be careful what you put in that "emergency" response since factual assertions (i.e. your version of the story) may not be changed or fixed by any amendment.