On the telephone, Shawna (not her real name) was sure she had a case. She had appeared in court, patiently awaiting her turn to plead her case. The landlord’s attorney did not show up, which should have meant a default judgment in Shawna’s favor. Yet, as she explained, the JP evicted her anyway.
On top of that, she had paid $5,000 to the landlady as a refundable deposit to prospectively purchase the property, but now was being told she would get none of it back. Shawna was breathing fire and brimstone, and was prepared to pursue legal options.
Although the court judgment was beyond the appeal time frame, I thought the egregious nature of the illegalities might provide a basis for a Special Action. As the prospects sounded intriguing for an attorney referral, we set an appointment.
Turns out, Shawna’s case was without merit, because whatever legal rights she might have had, she waived.
On the subject of the deposit, the paperwork contradicted what the landlady verbally stated. The lease clearly designated the payment as non-refundable. Shawna told me she would not have handed over the funds if she had known the money was non-refundable. But she trusted the landlady, and failed to read what was presented to her.
As to the court case, yes the landlady’s attorney did not appear. What happened next, however, was truly unethical. Shawna explained that a court clerk pulled her out of the courtroom where she had been awaiting her hearing, and presented her with a stipulation agreement prepared by the landlady’s attorney. The court clerk merely instructed her to sign it; Shawna complied, again failing to read through and understand what she was signing: it was an acknowledgment of her breach of contract and law, waiving any right to seek a new hearing or appeal, and that she would vacate.
The only remaining issue was that the landlady did not store Shawna’s personal property for the requisite 21 days following lock out, but instead promptly put it out on the street. I asked Shawna if, despite this, she had recovered most or all of her property. She replied that she had. I asked her if she had any significant monetary damages related to her personal property. She replied that she did not. So, she had nothing to claim as actual damages suffered relative to her personal property. Not much of a case to pursue.
Shawna expressed that the landlady and court clerk had seemed so nice. They were out to work with her, to help her — or so it seemed. Instead, she was conned. The landlady, who apparently owns many properties, has her scam down to a science. . . reel them in, verbally deceive them, get huge non-refundable down payments, then claim breach of contract/law and evict them so as to keep every penny.
People like Shawna are ready marks for unscrupulous landlords. Tenants should always be represented by counsel in court. Tenants should never sign documents prepared by the landlord’s attorney. In fact, I would never even privately meet with the landlord’s attorney, because the attorney is professionally astute at manipulating tenants, who generally are naive and readily manipulated. Remember, the landlord’s attorney, no matter how reasonable, calm and collected he or she appears, is there to represent the opposition’s interest at the expense of the tenant – you! The same generally goes with the judge or justice of the peace, who is prone to be favorably inclined for landlords. Obviously, as evidenced in Shawna’s situation, the same applies with the court clerks. Definitely a stacked deck.
So, always, always, read and understand what you are signing. Do not accept the interpretation of someone whose interest is likely to run counter to yours.
If you are reckless with your signature, then you, yourself, are primarily to blame.
As John McCain is reported to have said, it’s all a fucking scam. Watch your backside.
- Ken Volk -