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Single parent seeks to fight eviction

October 11, 2009|Martin Eichner

Question: I am a single parent with three small children. I have been renting a home for my family for six months. At first, I could make the rent payments, but two months ago I was laid off, so I was forced to stop paying the rent.

I have now been served a summons for an unlawful detainer action to evict me for failure to pay rent. Is there any way I can ask the court to allow me and my children to stay in the home until I can find a job and get back on my feet?

Answer: The unlawful detainer process is designed to provide a quick procedure for landlords to retrieve possession of a rental property when the tenant is in violation of the rental agreement. Failure to pay rent is the most common violation supporting unlawful detainer actions.

If it is true that you have not paid the rent due, and assuming the landlord has met the requirements for proper notice and service, there are very few defenses. If you file an answer to the unlawful detainer complaint within five days after you were served, you will be entitled to a trial of the case, but the court will not recognize hardship as a defense that will prevent issuing the eviction judgment.

There are emergency rental relief agencies in every community, but they generally provide funds only for a one-time hardship where the tenant can show a future ability to pay rent. If you are still unemployed, you may not be able to meet this requirement.

Also, now that the unlawful detainer action has been filed and served, there will be demands for the reimbursement of the court fees and attorney's fees in addition to the unpaid rent in order to dismiss the case and reinstate your tenancy.

As an alternative, the landlord or landlord attorney may agree to dismiss the case if you agree to immediately vacate and actually do so. If you do negotiate any type of dismissal agreement, make sure the formal dismissal filed with the court contains language protecting your credit record under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161.2.

-- Martin Eichner, Project Sentinel

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for the Sunnyvale, Calif., mediation service. To submit a question, go to

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