Recently, a Santa Monica landlord learned that a landlord should quickly move to evict a tenant who has violated a term of a rental agreement or lease. By waiting too long to file an unlawful detainer, a tenant has a better defense that the landlord waived the breach or is “estopped” from pursuing the eviction.

In this case, the landlord filed an unlawful detainer, or eviction lawsuit, against a tenant for improvements that the tenant had made in the 1990s. The rental agreement prohibited a tenant from altering the premises without the landlord’s permission. These provisions that prohibit alterations without prior landlord approval are very common and I find them in nearly every rental agreement I see. Perhaps the landlord wanted the tenant evicted because his rent controlled apartment was only rented for $800/month when the fair market value is approximately $1,700/month. However, the ulterior reasons for the evictions should be irrelevant. Rather, the eviction was based upon a Three Day Notice to Perform or Quit.

The jury after hearing the unlawful detainer trial found that the landlord had waived her rights to file an unlawful detainer because the improvements had been performed over twenty years ago. A waiver is a voluntary relinquishment of some known right or privilege. Here, the landlord relinquished her right to require her approval for a tenant’s improvement because she had allowed the improvement for over twenty years previously.

This story provides a warning to landlords who wait too long to enforce a right under a contract. If a landlord waits years before actually enforcing a contract, then arguably the landlord has waived that right.

The full story can be found at the Santa Monica Mirror’s website here.