Establishing “Just Cause” in Evictions

Updated on August 17, 2023

The Appellate Division of the Orange County Superior Court recently published a decision on one possible way to establish  “just cause” to evict a tenant under the Tenant Protection Act of 2019. In this blog, we’ll be going over establishing “just cause” in evictions.

Establishing Just Cause Eviction in California

Please keep in mind the Appellate Division of any Superior Court is due to the case being a limited jurisdiction case – a case with damages of less than $25,000.  Moreover, the case just analyzed one type of just cause eviction not all types.

As quick background, the Tenant Protection Act is legislation that establishes conditions on evictions and puts limits on rent increases.

The case mentioned above involved Plaintiff and Appellant Frank Attenello versus Defendant and Respondent Sam Basilious.  (Attenello v. Basilious, Super. Ct. No. 30-2021- 01209364)

The case came in front of the Appellate Division because of an appeal by Plaintiff Frank Attenello who argued that the trial court erred in finding that a signed agreement in the case did not establish “just cause.” The appellate court disagreed with Attenello and ended up ruling in favor of Basilious and affirming the trial courts decision.

Unlawful Detainer Complaint

Attenello v. Basilious, Super. Ct. No. 30-2021- 01209364 began with Attenello filing an unlawful detainer complaint to evict Basilious.  The basis of the complaint was that defendant signed an agreement agreeing to vacate the property before June 31, 2021 but failed to do so.

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Establishing "Just Cause" in Evictions

The court went into detail about the agreement itself and what is contained. Essentially, the agreement stated that the tenant was in possession of the property and had failed to pay the full amount of rent due to the landlord. In exchange for the tenant agreeing to move out by the specified date, the landlord agreed to forgive an amount of unpaid rent.

The specific question in front of the court was whether that agreement constituted notice by the defendants to the plaintiffs of their intent to terminate their tenancy and thereby meeting the “just cause” requirement.

“Just Cause” Eviction Requirement

In holding that the agreement was not notice by the defendants of their intent to terminate their tenancy, the court reasoned that the agreement at issue did not meet the specific requirements of section 1946.2, subdivision (b)(1)(K) of the Tenant Protection Act of 2019.

This subsection provides that just cause to evict exists when a tenant makes a written notice or offer to surrender possession but fails to do so. Here, the court found that the landlord provided the agreement as opposed to the tenant.  The Appellate Court reasoned that even if it was proper notice, it was not properly served by the defendant to the plaintiff as required by California law.  Obviously, this is a technicality – but an important one.

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The lease termination agreement at issue was actually a form template made available by the California Association of Realtors.  The plaintiffs names and “Rangers Property Management” were in the footer of the agreement.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals reasoned that there was no “just cause” eviction at issue in the case.  The court held that because the landlord provided the agreement to the tenant, it could not constitute a tenant’s written notice or offer to surrender sufficient to constitute just cause under the Tenant Protection Act.   While it appears the landlord lost on a technicality, one way to contract around this may be to add in magic language to a termination agreement and require the tenant to serve it on the landlord after the parties reach an agreement.

Evictions in the State of California and in Los Angeles in particular are becoming overwhelming more difficult.   Moreover, the law on evictions does not allow the type of wiggle room that ordinary cases provide to fix procedural defects.

The real estate attorneys at Schorr Law fortunately have defended both commercial and residential landlords and tenants alike. We have an abundance of experience and have been navigating the tenant protection action along with regional eviction moratoriums for years.

To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give us a call at (310) 954-1877. Please note that all residential landlord/ tenant related matters do not qualify for a free consultation.

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