Suing your landlord  


Tenant Lawsuits in San Francisco Superior Court

Who should sue?

Mosbrucker & Foran specializes in filing suits for tenants who have been wrongfully evicted in violation of local rent control laws, who live with grossly defective conditions in their apartments, who have been harassed by their landlords, or who have been fraudulently leased illegal apartments.

However, not every tenant who has been wronged by her landlord is a good candidate for filing a lawsuit (or being a “plaintiff”).

Pretty much all that the legal system can do for a tenant who has been treated badly is award that tenant a certain amount of money as compensation. It can’t undo the bad experience or make your landlord apologize to you. If you have been wrongfully evicted, it generally can’t restore you to your former home.

When you file a lawsuit, you have to spend a certain amount of time reliving the bad experience that made you file suit in the first place. Also, you give up a certain amount of privacy when you file a lawsuit... especially if the other side decides to take your deposition. Your landlord’s lawyer will be free to ask you questions about any emotional distress you suffered as a result of her client’s conduct, and may even be allowed to pry into any psychiatric history you might have.

Before you file a lawsuit, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if the law can really compensate you for the harm you suffered, and if the experience of litigation is one you can live with.

The law isn’t justice. It’s a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be.
— Raymond Chandler


It takes a little over a year for a case to get to trial (although most cases settle, most settle fairly close to the trial date). In the future, cases may be delayed further due to cuts in court personnel.

Once the lawsuit is filed in Superior Court and served on the defendant(s), the defendant has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. Professional courtesy dictates that we give a brief extension to opposing counsel.

A month or so after the defendant files an answer to the complaint, the Court sets a trial date. The trial is generally set about 11 months after the complaint was served. You are required to be present for all the days of the trial, if it takes place (although over 95% of civil cases settle without trial). Often, cases will be postponed one or more times on the motion of one or the other side. Some cases are not resolved for up to two years, although this is rare.

The court requires every case to go to mediation prior to the trial date. Mediation is an opportunity for both sides to reach an out-of-court settlement without the risk and inconvenience of a trial. Most mediations take place eight to ten months after the case is filed.

Both sides will engage in extensive discovery after the complaint and answer have been filed. This consists of written interrogatories each side serves the other (these are questions which have to be answered precisely under penalty of perjury), demands for production of documents, and depositions. You will need to draft answers to any questions we receive; this is a time-consuming process for you. Each plaintiff can also expect to spend, on the average, one full day having his or her deposition taken. We will, of course, be present at your deposition and will spend some time preparing you for your deposition prior to the event. We will also take at least one deposition in every case; complicated cases may require numerous depositions.

Resolution of a case

It is not unusual for a civil case to settle before trial. If a settlement is reached, payment generally is made within 30 days of the signing of the settlement papers. In most cases, the payment is made by the landlord’s insurance company, and not the landlord.

If a case does go to trial, the trial may last from one to two weeks. You will need to be present every day of the trial. We will almost always have a jury in a tenant/landlord case.

Value of a case

Each case is, of course, unique in terms of its settlement value and/or likely trial value, and things that are uncovered in the course of litigation may change the value of a case. The main damages in wrongful eviction cases are moving costs, the rent differential (calculated either by subtracting what you were paying in your old home from what you are paying now or else by subtracting what you were paying from the fair market value of your old home and then multiplied by the length of time you would have likely stayed if you weren’t evicted), and emotional distress. In wrongful eviction cases, out of pocket damages are tripled, and in cases where the landlord behaved especially egregiously, emotional distress may be too. Generally, the longer the length of your old tenancy, the more your emotional distress is valued.