How to Avoid a Jury Trial in a Tenant Eviction Action
A trend is now occurring, where tenant defense attorneys are now requesting jury trials. It should be first noted that all litigants have the right to a jury trial, if a proper request is made.
The litigant must file a "Request for Jury Trial" form and pay jury fees. The fees must be paid 5 days before the trial date. The jury fees are $150. A jury trial will generally last 3 to 5 days. An attorney representing a landlord will be forced to charge several thousands of dollars to prosecute a jury trial.
Now let's discuss the motivation of the tenant's attorney for requesting a jury trial. Clearly, the tenant would not be able to afford the cost associated with hiring an attorney for a jury trial. The defense attorney is gambling on the fact that the landlord would rather pay the tenant to move, then to pay the cost of a jury trial. Furthermore, if the landlord should not prevail in the trial, your tenant would be entitled to reasonable attorney fees, if a written rental agreement between the parties provides for these fees.
A tenant attorney would be able to file a motion for attorney fees and seek thousands of dollars, which the landlord would be forced to pay. Our firm has taken the strategy of not settling with the tenant's attorney, if a demand for money is made. It is abhorrent to reward a tenant with a cash settlement where the tenant has failed to pay the rent. By paying settlements, it only encourages defense attorneys to continue with the practice.
In the war against jury trials, my firm has come up with an additional plan to take the financial incentive out of requesting jury trials. If your rental agreement limits reasonable attorney fees to $500, there would be no incentive for a tenant's attorney to go through with a jury trial. If you do not agree to pay settlement money, the defense attorney will be forced to do a jury trial with a potential gain of only $500 in attorney fees.
It is imperative to check your rental agreements to see if there is an attorney fee limitation. If one does not exist, it will be necessary to serve on all month-to-month tenants a "Change of Terms of Tenancy". This form will limit the attorney fees to a maximum of $500. Here is the form you need to download --- This form is legal even in rent control jurisdictions.