To establish a tenant’s wrongful eviction case, we interview the tenant to get the facts of the case and conduct our own investigation of the property and the landlord. We often hire a private investigator to determine where the landlord really lives and who is living in the property. When appropriate, we hire a private building inspector to take pictures of the unit and prepare a report documenting the defective conditions in the unit. We also retain an expert to determine the market value of the apartment at the time the tenant vacated.
We then file a complaint in court against the landlord.
The next step of the process is to propound written discovery and, when necessary, take depositions of the landlord, neighbors and any other person who may have direct knowledge of the facts of the case. We also depose the landlord’s experts.
Later, there is usually a non-binding mediation with an objective, professional mediator who tries to get the dispute resolved. If it resolves at mediation, the case is over. If not, the case proceeds to trial.
Q: Are there instances where you need depositions of the landlord or other tenants in the building?
In discovery, we will almost always depose the landlord and the property manager. We will also interview other witnesses, such as other tenants of the building who are friendly toward our clients. We don’t always need to take their depositions, but we will interview them and prepare to use them as witnesses at trial if necessary. If there are construction workers, handymen or other people who worked for the landlord and have knowledge of the situation, we will take their depositions. In a typical case, we will depose all of the defendants and maybe three or four witnesses as the case proceeds to trial.
Q: How often are these cases resolved at the mediation stage?
The vast majority are resolved with an independent and agreed upon mediator, without court supervision. But we are always ready to take a case to trial if the defendants do not make a reasonable settlement offer.
Q: In San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, how do you find and screen jurors who are sympathetic to tenants?
Jurors are selected through a process called “Voir Dire,” where you ask all the jurors general questions, such as whether they have been a tenant before, if any are currently landlords, or if they have any strong opinions about rent control. We might also ask if they know what rent control is and if they own property, as well as more general questions about their opinions about the court system or lawsuits. You are not allowed to “pre-try” your case, which means you cannot ask potential jurors things like, “If the factor is X, Y or Z, who will you rule for?” However, you can try to get a general sense of any explicit biases a juror might have or if there are any reasons someone might not serve as an effective and fair juror.