It’s the law: What happens with wacky tenants
by Gary Redenbacher
Feb 06, 2014 | 2390 views | 2 2 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I represent a lot of residential and commercial landlords and, occasionally, a tenant or two. While much of this work is mundane, such as reviewing leases or advising landlords on the intricacies of security deposits, once in a while an eviction (unlawful detainers in legal parlance) livens things up. As the expression goes, “Keep Santa Cruz Weird.” Tenants are not necessarily excluded from this philosophy.

This isn’t to say that it’s always the tenant who is wacky. I’ve seen my fair share of landlords who have no business being in the business. For example, this county has a huge problem with illegal rentals. It is not unusual for these illegal units to be un-tenantable and many of these landlords are not exactly diligent in correcting the problems. This month, however, I will stick with wacky tenants.

By far, the most common problem with tenants is a failure to pay rent. (Some kind of nuisance, such as excessive noise, is probably second on the list.) Failing to pay nearly always results in the landlord issuing a Three Day Notice to Pay or Quit; essentially pay the rent or get out. If tenants aren’t able to scrape up the rent, only rarely do they actually get out within the three days. Usually, the landlord has to go through the eviction process and the tenants leave just before the sheriff comes knocking. The reasons for nonpayment vary: drug addled tenants who spend all their cash to get high, alcoholics who cannot function. flaky tenants who just can’t write that check on time, and, most unfortunately, those who have lost their job or encountered some tragedy that takes all their funds.

With rents as high as they are in Santa Cruz County, it is unusual for average working stiffs to have enough dough salted away to pay several months rent until they find a new job. So where do these people go when they are evicted? Many move in with relatives, some become homeless or live in their cars, and some seek out significantly cheaper housing.

What is cheaper than a residential rental? Illegal units, or some kind of commercial space, such as storage units. It is not unusual to find people renting storage units and secretly turning them into living quarters. Eventually, the landlord finds out that his storage unit has turned into a motel and that’s when I get a call.

Using a rental unit as your man cave is a breach of contract and results in a Three Day Notice to Cure or Quit, which means the tenant has three days to stop living there or give up the unit. Of course, the sad truth is most such tenants have nowhere else to go. But the law requires landlords to evict these tenants, no matter how sad the situation, because storage units are not approved for human habitation. Although I’ve never had such a case, I have heard of tenants asphyxiating when firing up a gas heater in an illegal unit. The carbon monoxide from the heater kills or severely poisons the tenant.

On one occasion, I was called to evict one such storage squatter. As far as I know, this particular tenant was able to pay rent, but decided nonetheless that he wanted to live in a storage rental. Rather than leave peaceably when the sheriff showed up, the tenant resisted. The sheriff started talking the tenant down to defuse the situation. The tenant got distraught as the sheriff’s deputies continued to try to talk the tenant out of the unit. Suddenly, the renter bolted from the unit carrying two dead, frozen cats by the tail exclaiming and sobbing as he ran off that he should be given the chance to properly bury them. He then ran into a nearby business where he thrust the two frozen cats onto a counter where he commiserated with some rather shocked employees about his inability to properly bury his beloved frozen pets.

Evictions can sometimes be heartbreaking (as when the tenant loses his or her job), or a huge relief (as when the tenant is a druggie), or it can be just weird. Running out with frozen cats in tow is just weird.

- Gary Redenbacher of Scotts Valley is an attorney in private practice. E-mail him at


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Shame on you
February 11, 2014
Poverty, mental illness, drug addiction or simply the loss of one’s job and savings and ultimately a place to live is a tragic situation. Your attempt to use someone’s misfortune for comic pleasure is nothing less than inappropriate and is in very poor taste.
Bruce Holloway
February 12, 2014
I've overheard Gary once or twice at the court clerk's office. In a profession of snakes, cynics, the greedy and the incompetent, he seems like just the nicest guy, and smart.

One of my best friends told me a frozen cat story. We're all crazy in our own way. I assume the basis was simply temporary insanity under stress.

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