Legit Reasons to Halt Jury Trials for Unlawful Detainers

Legit reasons to halt jury trials for unlawful detainers

It’s no secret that landlords feel like they are getting the short end of the stick during the numerous rent moratoriums on federal, state and local levels of government due to the current Coronavirus pandemic. What’s worse is nobody seems to be talking about how these moratoriums are messing with owner’s constitutional rights such as Article 1 – Section 10 where no state can pass legislation that hinders the ability to enforce a contract. What about our 5th and 14th amendments?

These measures were put in place to protect the public and those affected by the pandemic such as loss of income, financial hardships due to hospital bills and caring for loved ones who were infected, etc. There is no doubt they were placed in good faith to help but there are considerations to be taken on how it could affect businesses and action should be taken to make things fair for both sides of the table.

What a lot of people outside the rental property industry are not aware of is the fact that anyone involved in an unlawful detainer are entitled to trial by jury. It is technically not a constitutional right since it is found under a statute in the Code of Civil Procedure Section 1171. If that text didn’t exist, there would be no such thing as a jury trial in an unlawful detainer proceeding which could easily be decided by judicial officers. If this were the case, there wouldn’t be costly and lengthy delays in eviction cases in California.

Who is affected more by the rent moratoriums?

These moratorium measures in place can impact rental property providers on any level but particularly the mom and pop owners who rely on their income property to survive. In the course of the last 3 months, we’ve seen tenants use the moratoriums in a legitimate way by communicating with their landlords and trying to come up with either a payment plan or some sort of “promise to pay” compromise. We have also seen, however, tenants abuse them and not pay rent, cut off communications with their landlord and “ride this out” as long as they can. What do you think will happen once these moratoriums are lifted? The tenants in the latter example won’t budge until they get sued!

Tenants going through the eviction process almost always request a trial by jury. This is where we see an opportunity to make things fair and balance things out. While a very small handful of these requests are legitimate, the vast majority use this request as a tactic to delay the proceedings. These situations are a huge burden on landlords since they must prepare their day in court with their lawyers. Most of the time the owners end up agreeing to tenant favored settlements to avoid going to trial and end up getting possession of their properties a few months later.

After the emergency is lifted

The California eviction court system is going to get blasted with eviction filings the same day these moratoriums are lifted. Most local ordinances won’t even let you file for evictions until 90 days after the emergency has been lifted by the governor. Things will be hectic to say the least. All of these jury demands will create massive amounts of pressure on courts which will undoubtedly cause unlawful detainers cases to stand by while the court gives criminal trials priority.

Our question is simple. If these moratoriums can suspend constitutional rights, shut down nonessential industries and obligate the population of California to shelter in place, why can’t California suspend jury trials for unlawful detainers?

Temporarily taking away the right to jury trials won’t take anything away from tenants except the opportunity to force landlords into tenant-favored settlements on top of the already tenant-favored emergency moratoriums in place. Judicial officers should be allowed to make fair decisions on unlawful detainer cases during the time these emergency moratoriums are in place and a considerable time after while the courts catch up.