One of the most important pieces of legislation for tenants in years is currently being debated in the California legislature. I urge you to email your Assemblypersons and State Senators and tell them to vote for AB-934 which will limit the use of “litigation privilege” that provides immunity for landlords from wrongful eviction lawsuits.
Imagine that you come home from work one day and, tacked to your door, you find a notice from your landlord. The notice simply states: 60-DAY NOTICE TO QUIT, Get out! If you’re not outta here in 60 days, I’m going to evict your ass! Signed, Snidely Whiplash.
If you read this column, you know that this is an illegal notice. Assuming you have a rent controlled apartment, the notice does not state a just cause for eviction. Nor does it conform to several other procedural requirements of the rent ordinance.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you don’t read this column; that you didn’t take this notice to the San Francisco Tenants Union for their evaluation.
Let’s pretend that you said to yourself, “Oh hell, screw old Snidely Whiplash anyway. It’s going to be a pain in the ass to find another two-bedroom apartment in the Marina for $800.00 per month, but Whiplash has refused to fix the roof that has been leaking for ten years. I’ll just move out.”
You bite the bullet and move. A couple of months later, you’re bitterly complaining to your friend about your room at the Godforsaken Hotel in the Loin. You explain how you got there and your friend says, “Wait a minute, call Crow & Rose. I think that you were wrongfully evicted.”
So now, you’re telling me your story and my response is something like, “Yeah, you were royally screwed, but there may be a problem. Even though that notice was completely bogus under the rent ordinance, your landlord may be immune from a lawsuit for wrongful eviction because of a thing called the “litigation privilege.” WTF?
Think of it this way: The glamorous front person for the notorious slasher punk band, The Doggie Doos, finds out that her manager, Dick Bucks, has misappropriated 90% of the tour money. She sues him for conversion (essentially a civil suit for theft.) Dick sues her for defamation of character because she essentially called him a thief. He claims she stole the dough instead. She sues him back for defamation because he called her a thief, etc.
The litigation privilege was designed to prevent those derivative (based on the original lawsuit) defamation claims. It makes the statements or communications made in the course of a judicial proceeding privileged.
So what does this have to do with your lawsuit against Snidely Whiplash? The legislative analysis of AB-934 provides an explanation:
“In Action Apartments v. City of Santa Monica (2007), the court held that a landlord could invoke the litigation privilege against a tenant alleging wrongful eviction under a local ordinance, even if the landlord acted with “malicious” intent and had no factual or legal basis for issuing a notice or filing an unlawful detainer.
In Feldman v. Park Lane (2008), the court extended the privilege beyond actions brought under a local ordinance to include state law and common law actions for wrongful eviction and related actions.”
In other words, Snidely Whiplash could make the case that his bogus notice was privileged because he intended to evict you if you didn’t move. Therefore, the notice was a privileged communication, a precursor to a judicial proceeding–a lawsuit for unlawful detainer. Your wrongful eviction lawsuit could be thrown out of court!
AB-934 simply clarifies the law about litigation privilege so that the privilege cannot be used by landlords to claim immunity from locally enacted rent control ordinances. Nothing more, nothing less. Landlords’ claims that that the bill would subject them to derivative lawsuits are absurd. The bill will certainly subject unscrupulous landlords like Mr. Whiplash to new, justified lawsuits. But he will no longer be able to hide behind an immunity created for him by activist Republican courts.
AB-934 is the kind of legislation that exposes and seeks to eliminate the corrupt machinations of the rich and powerful to immunize themselves from the true intent of the law. We need more like it.
Again, I urge you to send the most important email you’ll send all year. I also urge you to forward the link to your friends in California who may not live in as tenant friendly neighborhoods as San Francisco. Legislators from Eureka to Fresno to Chula Vista need to get on the right side of this issue.
Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.