Law Offices of James Coy Driscoll


The Law Offices of James Coy Driscoll specializes in representing tenants who are threatened with or who have been evicted from their home or business. We have had great success in defending unlawful detainer lawsuits, especially those based on alleged owner move-in or the Ellis Act (the taking of an entire building off of the residential rental market). Whatever your unique situation, give me a call for a free telephone consultation, I am sure to help.

San Francisco benefits from some of the most tenant friendly laws in the country. In addition to California’s statewide restrictions on evictions, San Francisco has very strict limitations on when a landlord can evict a residential tenant. California law requires almost all evictions to be done only by a sheriff or marshal, after a court has decided that an eviction is proper. Self-help evictions by landlords are almost always illegal.

There are only fourteen reasons why a landlord can evict a residential tenant in San Francisco. Some of the reasons include:

Non-Payment of Rent

The most common reason for an attempted eviction is that the landlord says that the tenant did not pay her rent. But before a landlord can evict for that reason, he must first give the tenant three days notice that the rent is past-due and to pay. In addition, there may be other defenses to a non-payment eviction, such as defects in the condition of the unit or building.

Owner Move-in

Owner move-in is another example of a reason a landlord may try to use to evict a residential tenant. For a valid owner move-in, a landlord has to comply very carefully with the law. The landlord must give the tenant at least thirty days written notice of her intent to move in. The notice must also advise what other residential realty the landlord owns. The notice must also be delivered with a $500.00 payment per tenant. The landlord must also pay $500.00 per tenant when the unit is turned over to him. There are other requirements and restrictions as well.

Ellis Act

The Ellis Act is also a way that landlords try to take back their units. The Ellis Act is state law that says that a residential landlord may take an entire building out of residential use. Again, there are strict requirements that the landlord must meet before he can evict tenants under the Ellis Act.

Defending an Eviction Lawsuit

The key to the successful defense of an eviction lawsuit (called an unlawful detainer) is to act early. A tenant hiring an attorney as soon as she gets a Notice to Quit (a landlord’s eviction notice) has the advantage of having up to 30 days for her attorney to investigate the matter and, if appropriate, try to settle the case before a lawsuit is filed by the landlord.

Regardless of the reason a landlord attempts to use to evict a tenant, the first thing he must do is serve the tenant with a notice to move out. If the tenant does not move out, the landlord must then file a lawsuit called an unlawful detainer and serve a copy of the lawsuit on the tenant. The tenant then has only five calendar days to respond to the lawsuit. If the tenant does not respond on time and in the proper written manner, she can be evicted without ever getting heard in court.

The response to a summons and complaint must be filed with the court. The response must be either a properly drafted pleading (legal document) or a properly completed form answer. A letter or phone call will not be enough.

People who are not experienced tenants’ lawyers sometimes harm their chances of winning their cases by simply filling out a form answer at the court clerk’s office. By doing so, they may give up many defenses to the eviction lawsuit, such as that service of the summons and complaint was not done in a legal manner. In addition, there are responses to the complaint other than an answer, such as a demurrer or a motion to strike, that may end the litigation early and also give the tenant’s attorney time to complete his investigation.

Once the tenant’s lawyer files the response to the complaint, she can then propound written discovery (send questions and requests for documents to the landlord to be answered under penalty of perjury). She can also require the landlord to appear in her office in person and answer questions under oath regarding the case. This helps the tenant’s lawyer prepare a defense to the eviction lawsuit. The tenant has a right to have the case heard by a judge, and if she wants, by a jury. Trial by jury means that ordinary people get to hear the tenant’s story and decide who wins. Many tenants feel that this is better than just having a judge hear the case.

Are you being evicted? Fight Back! Contact the Law Office of James Coy Driscoll.

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2131 Lombard Street
San Francisco, CA 94123






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