Counsel, Advocacy & Representation for California Tenants

Defending Against Landlord Small Claims Cases

Landlords Can Sue for Back Rent in Small Claims Court

The California Legislature has made it easier for landlords to sue their tenants in small claims court. In June of this year a new Section was added to the Code of Civil Procedure. This Section, § 116.223, was added specifically for the purpose of creating incentives for landlords to use small claims court to recover unpaid rent from their tenants.

Landlords can begin to bring  lawsuits for unpaid COVID rent beginning Novemer 1, 2021.

Under normal circumstances, the maximum amount any plaintiff can attempt to recover in small claims is capped at $10,000.00.  Section 116.223 lifts this cap when the entity or person suing is a landlord seeking to recover rent that has been unpaid during the COVID pandemic.

The Section specifically limits the rent that can be recovered under this enlarged jurisdiction.  It defines “COVID-19 rental debt” as any rent that was unpaid during March 2020 through September 30, 2021.

If the rent the landlord is suing to recover was accrued during this period of time, then there is no limit on the amount the judgment he can recover.

This increase in small claims court jurisdiction represents an extraordinary opening and advantage for landlords.

Neither party is allowed to have an attorney’s representation in small claims court, there is no opportunity to conduct preliminary discovery, bring motions prior to trial, and there are no rules of evidence. 

This may seem like it levels the playing field between the parties, but in truth, it creates an unknown element of surprise that can place tenants in a vulnerable position they have no idea how to prepare for until the day of trial. 

Fortunately, there are resources available for tenants who are sued in small claims.  The most important of these is the availability of counsel and advice from attorneys that specialize in defending tenants.

Even though the procedural rights of defendants in small claims are different than tenants in unlawful detainer, Tenant Defenders attorneys have extensive knowledge of the law concerning contracts, property rights, and small claims procedure.  We have helped hundreds of tenants navigate small claims litigation over the decade we have been working for tenants’ rights.

It is important to get this counsel and advice early on in the process in order to maximize the likelihood of a successful outcome in court. 

Even if you are sued in small claims court and lose, you still have a right of appeal, but you must act quickly to preserve those rights.  In an appeal from small claims, you can have an attorney’s representation. 

I strongly encourage you to set up a consultation concerning your rights as a tenant if you expect your landlord may sue you for unpaid rent. 


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Get Representation

If you have a situation that is more than a question, and are already having a dispute with your landlord, then information alone is often not enough to settle the matter to your advantage. What most renters need, but seldom have, is an attorney who knows the law, and the landlord’s duties under the law, and is not afraid to advocate for tenants.

Even the most informed tenants can find the court system overwhelming.  Defending against eviction on your own is more than just challenging.  Fort the unprepared and unrepresented it is an ordeal filled with traps.  Tenants who go to court without an attorney frequently enter into bad agreements and suffer humiliation at the hands of the landlord’s lawyers. Having an experienced attorney on your side will make a difference.

Get Informed

If your situation is not a lawsuit in court, but rather a question, or a curiosity about what the law says, there are many places where you can find educational materials, and  every tenant should become familiar with the legal protections for tenants in California law.

Many times the answer to tenants’ legal questions are more complicated than they may first appear.  It’s important to be careful, and not to rely upon every piece of information posted online, or simply accept the advice of friends and neighbors.  Make sure the source of your legal advice is reliable and up to date.

Look around the website and see if we have information to help you.  If you have a question and you can’t find an answer,  click here to send us a comment.  An attorney that specializes in advocating for tenants will reply, and can direct you to the resources you need. 

Don't go to Trial unprepared

Written notices demanding the payment of rent, notices that threaten the termination of your lease, accusations of illegal activity, and notices of changes in terms and conditions of a lease from a landlord or property manager are often the prelude to legal action.  They must be taken seriously.  It is critical for tenants to respond to notice from a landlord intelligently and prudently.

Before you agree to excessive rent increases, or allow the oppressive actions of the owner or management intimidate you, meet with a professional.

Information, early in time, is the key to success.  Often times becoming informed can help you to avoid being on defense.  If you are not able to avoid litigation, then consult with an attorney who stands with tenants and defends their rights.

Don't Waste Time

When a tenant has a legal conflict with the landlord, there is often only a short period of time to act.  Under California law, landlords are usually required to give notice to tenants before they resort to legal action. However, most of these legally required notices give a tenant only three days to act.  When a tenant fails to act within the three days then the landlord can proceed to court.

Once an action to evict (also called unlawful detainer) is filed against a tenant in court, it can move very quickly.   Landlords enjoy a unique legal procedure, which is known as a summary proceeding.   Once a tenant is sued in court, and then served with an unlawful detainer summons, then he or she has only five days to respond.

If your landlord has sued you or is threatening to sue you, then you must act quickly. Hesitation and uncertainty can lead to a loss of money, loss of security and the loss of your home. Don’t wait.  Schedule an appointment for a consultation  immediately to discuss your case.