Over the past few years I have noticed several large unlawful detainer law firms are verifying the complaints of their clients. They do this because unlawful detainer complaints must be verified. Verified means signed under penalty of perjury by the plaintiff. The practice of an attorney verifying a complaint troublesome for both the firm’s clients and for the opposing defendants. Quite frankly, it is poor practice and likely unethical.
The only time the plaintiff’s attorney may verify the complaint is when the plaintiff is absent from the county where the attorney has his or her office or is otherwise unable to verify the complaint; or the facts are within the personal knowledge of the attorney verifying the complaint. CCP § 446; League of Women Voters v. Eu (1992) 7 CA4th 649, 656.
The Court of Appeals has interpreted Code of Civil Procedure section 446 to permit attorney verification only where the client’s absence from the county makes it impractical or impossible to obtain the client’s signature. If the client can be reached by mail, no such impossibility exists…and the attorney verification is not allowed. DeCamp v. First Kensington Corp. (1978) 83 CA3d 268, 275.
Even if such verification were permissible, an attorney’s verification of a complaint makes him or her witness to the facts verified. In such a scenario, the attorney providing the verification may properly be deposed by the other side. CRPC 5-210.
In other words the attorney is generally not permitted to verify his/her client’s unlawful detainer complaint. In today’s advanced world of communication there are few scenarios where the client is truly unavailable to provide a verification.
Thus, attorney verification of unlawful detainer complaints is poor practice which poses ethical and legal problems right at the outset of the case. From the plaintiff’s perspective, the law firm they hired to pursue an unlawful detainer action has started their case with a fraudulent or sham verification. This can handicap the plaintiff landlord’s case from the outset of the unlawful detainer action. At least one well-known unlawful detainer firm in Los Angeles employs this tactic routinely. I suggest landlords oversee and monitor their own attorneys so that they do not get caught starting the case in an improper manner.
On the other hand, if you are a tenant who received an unlawful detainer complaint verified by the plaintiff’s attorney, you should attack it. This opens the door to having the entire complaint thrown out because it is procedural improper.
This practice marks a key difference in strategy between some of the unlawful detainer “mills” in Los Angeles and other lawyers who give their cases the personal attention they deserve.