We normally don’t like to go too much off-topic around here, but as we’re gonna be running a couple of pieces on the Burbank Landlord-Tenant Commission soon (and all of the fun that goes on over there) this latest public stunt seems to be more than relevant. It’s also a perfect example of what good people are up against these days, and how the assholes always seem to be able to get the biggest cheers from the crowd.
Being the kind of thing that pollutes the airwaves so much and gives people a screwy idea of what life is really like– let alone their own legal rights and protections – somebody’s got to say something about this. Burbank tenants especially need to know what’s going on with these topics because as compared to LA or Glendale we have next to no rights in Burbank. It’s like the Wild, Wild West over here, and that’s by design.
So even though most thinking people know that TV’s wildly popular Judge Judy is an incompetent attorney as well as a certifiedly mean-spirited lunatic, her recent ruling in a televised landlord-tenant case was so appallingly inane that it must have led at least most of her 20 million viewers to think that she had a point. That’s the kind of audience she has.
But not only didn’t she have one– at least a point that was coherent, let alone fair– she also completely violated the law when it comes to tenant rights. And in just about every state in the union, but especially in California. Which is what matters to us right now.
So here’s the scenario:
A couple rents a house in April with a one-year lease. Everything’s fine until July, when they break up. The boyfriend can’t pay July’s rent and he moves out– sort of. The girlfriend apparently moves out a few weeks later, off and on, but the boyfriend tells the landlord the same month that he will pay the late rent, though he never does.
No formal notice of departure was ever given to the landlord. Keep this in mind, because it’s important.
So the landlord waits around for a couple of weeks until the end of July for the rent. And because he never gets it, he and his wife drive by to see what’s going on. The place looks vacant to him, although he did say that he’d seen them a couple of weeks earlier when the boyfriend said that he was “moving her out.”
Naturally, Judge Judy starts screaming at the couple for being broke. They’re suing the landlord and complaining that he apparently took all of their stuff and put it in storage– the girlfriend especially upset because she was not on the lease. And he won’t give it back.
So how did this happen? Apparently the landlord went into the house at the end of July and cleaned it out and then took all of their belongings and put them in storage because he got tired of waiting for the rent. Then– somehow– he or the tenants contacted each other, where he proceeded to tell them that they could have their belongings back if they paid him the $1500 or so that they owed him for the back rent and whatever else.
Now what’s wrong with this picture?
In the eyes of the real law– and not Judge Judy’s psychopathic world of pain and blame– what the landlord did is called a “self-help eviction.” The tenants owed them money, they didn’t pay it when they said they would, and so he went in on his own and evicted them from the premises. In less than a month, and after the tenant had made it clear that they weren’t totally out yet and we’re going to pay that month’s rent, for July.
Then, he put their property in storage and held it for the back rent. But the law has another word for this other act as well: it’s called “conversion.” That’s when you take someone’s property or money or whatever and hold it way from them until they pay you back for another debt or obligation.
And guess what? Conversion is illegal. You cannot collect a debt this way. The way you collect a debt is by going to court.
Worse, most states– like California– require landlords to place abandoned property into storage anyway and give the tenants the right to “redeem” it for the storage and moving costs only. Not for back rent. You collect back rent either through a small claims court action or a deposit seizure.
So let’s look at what this landlord did– and folks, this happens all the time:
- Rather than go to court to get a legal eviction (an unlawful detainer) the landlord on his own went in early and evicted these non-paying tenants.
- At the same time he seized their property and refused to redeem it for costs
Now in a real California courtroom this landlord would suffer serious sanctions from a real judge– especially if there was a tenant attorney involved. The tenants in fact could get financial relief for such an illegal invasion-of-privacy action. That’s because the landlord cannot take the law into his own hands and just do what he wants if you don’t pay your rent. Evicting a non-paying tenant requires getting an unlawful detainer from the court. Until that time the tenant still has a right to tenancy even if they don’t pay.
So what does Judge Judy do? After screaming at the tenants for about the umpteenth time about how poor they are, Judge Judy then starts exclaiming to her listless audience of non-union extras about what a “nice guy” the landlord was to have put their belongings in storage instead of just throwing them in the street. Then she dismisses their case by telling them that they can get their things back if they pay him the storage costs– without making him prove what those costs are.
No mention about proper landlord-eviction procedure, or why he broke into the house while they still had legal tenancy, or why he then tried to ransom their property for alleged sums owed. Nope.
All we heard was screaming and false blame and lots of hatred being directed towards people who obviously had no money. Oh, and lots of pious talk about how life isn’t about getting babysat all the time, and so who do you think you are?
In other words, the law and other protections and procedures be damned and you better watch out. But it’s not, and our only point here is that if you get all of your information from the television set these days then you are dooming yourself and your peers to a life where the assholes are going to grab all of the goodies.
And they will be screaming at and threatening you all the way.
[UPDATE: As it always is, today's Judge Judy was a hoot. We'll spare you the ugly details, but will note how the Judge admonished a losing-end juvenile in the case by telling his parents that he would now have to go out and "start mowing lawns or something in order to pay for this!"
Tough words from a tough judge, sure, and probably personally satisfying to most of her mentally decaying audience. But because the terms of the show require that the producers pay all of the judgments to the losing side, does this mean that Judge Judy was somehow reneging on the very reason why these sorry defendants will show up in front of her to be humiliated?
Or instead, was she just being her usual gratuitively nasty self? And basically lying to everyone about the status of the case.]