An Eviction Horror Story Starring an Evil Bay Area Judge
This article is written anonymously because the author fears reprisal from the courts.
Someone, Help Us
It isn’t just landlords raising rent that kills tenants. It’s the court.
In the last two weeks, I have seen more horrific, gut wrenching things in a courtroom in the Bay Area than I ever have in my entire life.
In February of 2016, we were at a breaking point. I lived with my mom, who had just come down with pneumonia. She had lived in our small townhouse for 11 years, with me living there off and on between schooling and jobs and life events. I settled back in when I began graduate school. The issues with the townhouse had been constant.
In 2010, I was electrocuted and sent to the ER when I flipped a breaker, not knowing that the landlord had failed to install a faceplate.
In 2011, my bedroom window fell out of its poor framing and shattered on my floor, narrowly missing one of my cats and myself, and leaving my room freezing in the middle of winter.
Since 2011, my mother’s bedroom window has been held on with duct tape.
At the end of 2011, the living room mysteriously flooded; we spent New Year’s Eve of 2012 installing new flooring ourselves, as the landlord refused to pay for labor or help in any way.
The issues go on and on and on. The increasingly difficult housing situation kept us alternately pinned in the residence for fear of being lost in an area where rent was spiraling rapidly out of control.
In February of 2016, the garbage disposal completely broke. Three months prior, the landlord had “fixed” it by jiggling some pipes and promptly leaving. Food had begun backing up into the sink.
Then the heater broke, while my mom lay weak with pneumonia and using an oxygen unit. I snapped.
We sent a certified letter to the landlord, telling him of the issues. We had paid a plumber and an HVAC repairman to fix them out of our own pockets, unable to wait for his years of delays and excuses.
Three weeks later, he evicted us.
We knew it was retaliatory; he had been bragging about being able to make more money on the unit if we left. His patience with doing repairs (or rather, not doing them and complaining) was wearing thin. So we went to court to fight the unlawful detainer issued.
On the first day, the landlord and his expensive attorney stormed out of mediations, refusing to even participate. My mom and I stood shaking our heads. We couldn’t afford an attorney, but had shown up willing to negotiate. Lot of good that did.
The next day, we showed up in front of a judge. I had spent the previous days and nights compiling extensive evidence: photos of safety hazards throughout the house; receipts for repairs we made out of pocket; emails back and forth to the landlord; certified letters. We sat down and watched 8 or so cases pass before we were heard.
Those cases disturbed me more than I can say.
In one, an elderly hispanic woman stood before the judge and explained her situation. She was living with her disabled son, and he had to be near his doctors. She had paid rent through July, but was being evicted that day, in June, without cause. The judge mocked her. He interrupted her constantly, told her to take it elsewhere, and that a stay wouldn’t be granted. He harped on her for speaking at all. When she finally left, in tears, she said one thing that stuck with me: I have a right to be heard. The judge sniggered.
In all of the eight cases we watched, he ruled in favor of the landlords.
When we came up, I was prepared for the worst—or so I thought. The judge, as he had done with the mother of a disabled son, mocked me, demeaned me, and interrupted me constantly. At no single point did he interrupt the landlord’s expensive attorney. Not even when the attorney made snide comments about me and our case that were completely inappropriate. Not even when the landlord perjured himself to the eyes and ears of everyone in the court. The landlord’s evidence was admitted wholesale without question. The judge refused to admit all but 3 small pieces of the 99 exhibits I prepared. One of them was a notice via certified mail served to the landlord on 2/16, notifying him of repairs needed.
The judgment went against us.
On the grounds that the notice we sent was after the eviction—which took place on 3/11.
I now sit at my desk, praying for a successful stay of execution and a granting of an appeal.
Everyone tells me it’s pointless. The deck is stacked for the landlords and I should give up.
If I give up, we will be homeless in a matter of days.
We did nothing wrong. We paid rent. We reported repairs. My mom and I work in helping professions.
This system is broken.
As the courageous, bold mother said to the judge: I have a right to be heard.
Apparently not in California courts.
A few days after the judgment, we began working on appeal paperwork. At any time, the sheriff’s office can issue a 5-day notice to vacate. The appeal and stay of execution have to be filed before then. However, it’s an overwhelming amount of research and paperwork. It’s a game running against time, really.
I was frustrated to a greater degree than I’ve ever known, and a few nights ago, I wrote to my congressman. Well, future congressman: the democratic nominee for District 17, Ro Khanna. I didn’t expect to get a response, and just blurted out my story so I could sleep knowing I said something.
He emailed me back at almost midnight, just an hour or two later. He offered to write me a letter to submit to the court, and to be used for reference in finding legal aid. I was completely blown away. “I’m here to stand up for people like you, not big corporations.” He sent that to me this morning after I freaked out at getting any reply at all. It was sent from his iPhone mid-morning. Talk about a restoration of faith in members of government.*
At this point, it’s still unsure. Everything is still in limbo. I slept three hours last night, and have been waking up frequently with waves of panic. It’s a terrible feeling to wake up in your bed and be terrified someone will rip you from it or arrest you. Nothing is as horrific as feeling like an intruder in your own home. An intruder who is guilty of nothing but asking repairs be made.
As I walked home from work last night, fighting back tears again (crying becomes a regular thing when you’re living in this situation; it makes social activities really awkward), I saw a pitbull curled up on a blanket on the sidewalk. In the middle of downtown San Francisco, it’s not uncommon. Neither was the pup’s owner, a woman who was herself homeless through simple bad luck. I talked to the woman. I empathized. Me and her pup shared a hug and I received some puppy smooches. As I walked away, I just shook my head as I thought:
We have got to do better than this.
*At least one member of it out of many corrupt and awful thousands.