Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tenant Advisory: Eviction Assistance Websites

Tenants Together is regularly contacted by tenants whose landlords are facing foreclosure. These tenants are often searching for attorneys to represent them in eviction cases resulting from their landlord's foreclosure. Regrettably, many communities do not have a well-developed tenant bar, and local legal aid organizations are often unable to meet the overwhelming numbers of tenants seeking representation.

This vacuum has led tenants to websites that offer services in pro per. (Pro per is when a person represents themselves in a legal action.) These websites advertise—sometimes for extraordinarily high prices—the preparation of basic legal paperwork. The potential tenant-client is often told that she will be able to stay in her home for several months because of the documents she is sold. These websites fail to inform tenants that they generally have the right to stay in their homes for 90 days or longer after foreclosure regardless of the paperwork that is filed, and that they have the right to contest the eviction in court after the notice expires, which can take over a month.

Tenants Together would like to provide some basic guidelines on how to determine if the service you are paying for is legitimate and whether you are paying for something that you could get for free, simply by going to your local self-help center.

1. Do not pay a paralegal to prepare documents unless they are a registered unlawful detainer assistant or working under the direct supervision of an attorney. In general, we would suggest that you only pay money when an attorney is preparing the legal documents. In California, unlawful detainer assistants may prepare documents for landlords or tenants. However, they must be registered and specifically are not allowed to provide legal advice.

2. In most communities, if you are unable to receive assistance from legal aid, you can go to a self-help center generally located at a courthouse. There, you can obtain the appropriate documents and some assistance on how to fill them out. See for a list of free local resources for document preparation.

3. Be wary of guarantees. It is rare that any attorney can guarantee the result of a legal action. An experienced attorney will rarely make such a claim but instead can describe the usual practice and provide a reasonable expectation.

4. Make sure you understand your rights as a tenant so that you are not paying for “extensions of time” that you already have a right to without any “filing of motions.”

5. It is generally important to attend hearings. Be wary of anyone who tells you that you do not need to attend a hearing, go to court or appear before a judge.

6. Do not use a company that claims to provide assistance in several states but provides information regardless of location. Every state has different laws regarding tenants. In California, 15 cities also have their own local just cause for eviction laws. Advice that does not take into account state and/or local law will rarely be accurate in this context.

Please feel free to contact our office if you have further questions or if you have paid money to a service that you feel may not be legitimate. We would like to hear about your experience with the service.

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