Landlord/Tenant Lawyers

Parent Q&A

Bought a home, squatter help May 19, 2021 (17 responses below)
  • Bought a home, squatter help

    (17 replies)

    My husband and I just bought a home in Berkeley. The seller's stepdaughter (probably in her 50's) has lived in the home for years and is refusing to move out. She does not have a lease or estoppel or any other type of written document and does not pay any rent or utilities. She was offered a buyout a few times (other potential buyers) when the home was on the market, accepted the offer, and then refused to leave when the time came to exit the property. The seller and stepdaughter have an estranged relationship. Given this information, we are struggling with next steps.

    • Should we hire an attorney to advise us? Any recommendations on attorneys who can help us navigate this?
    • Should we attempt to talk to her first before even talking to an attorney?
    • Is she legally even considered a tenant? Is she a squatter?
    • Has anyone been through a similar situation and can offer some advice/insight?
    • The seller is asking that we transfer all utilities under our name. We would like to shut off all utilities because we are not planning on moving in immediately. We are planning a large renovation and in the process of getting contractors/architects to come out to the property. I'm not even sure if this is possible if she is still living there. 

    Thank you!

    RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

    Uh.... don't close escrow until the premises are vacant, locks changed with evidence of that provided by the seller!

    RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

    We are going through this right now with two of our homes (and no, we are not career landlords - we have just moved a lot and didn't have time or energy to sell homes). 

    If at all possible, don't close until all tenants have left. We just moved to a new area where there are many new people buying up homes and probably half of them are facing a similar situation. For some buyers, with the timing of the pandemic and relief, it can turn ugly.

    First off, you're probably going to need to get a lawyer involved. My sister is a real estate agent and attorney; she couldn't even help us. We had to suck it up and pay $7-$10K to get an attorney, for each respective house/situation (two different states). Keep in mind right now through June 30 ( I don't believe it's been extended as of yet), there's a moratorium in place where renters do not have to leave (or pay rent) until then. In the event that the moratorium doesn't  get extended, you're still going to have a legal issue on your hands. Why? Because it's very pro-tenant rights at this time. Be prepared for this and a 6 to 12 month battle to get the tenant out. I am all about tenant's rights, and I know many have come upon hard times. The problem is, there's many tenants taking advantage of the situation (one of ours just paid cash for their Tesla but they somehow can't come up with any rent money to pay us since last April).

    The common suggestion we received is to cut off the electricity. It seems like your situation could have a good argument for this. As in you don't need to move in right away and you're doing renovations. But be careful. We know a lot of friends/colleagues who have recently gone down this road and it usually ends up in court and the tenant wins. I AM NOT GIVING LEGAL ADVICE; I am just letting you know that you're not the only one going through this (it can seem very lonely and frustrating) and that at this time, cross every "T" and dot every "i." Be ready for 6-12 months of frustration. I would say don't do this alone because again, it might end up in court. Change the locks in the meantime. It won't solve the problem but it can help. 

    RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

    You definitely need a lawyer.  Your agent/broker should be helping you on this. 

  • Hello

    I'm looking for a referral for a tenant lawyer regarding a mold issue in our rental.

    I checked the archives and the referrals were old- and some numbers had been disconnected. 

    I would be happy to go with a big firm or a solo practice.

    We moved in - and the landlord won't make simple repairs- such a cleaning the gutters.  We tested for mold, and there is mold everywhere.  We want to get our deposit back.

    The landlord is in denial-- We showed them pictures of holes in the gutters and water leaking down the wall into the garage . He states that the mold smell could not possibly be from the rusted out gutters.  Presumably it took years to rust and there has been years of leaking down the wall.  He will not replace the gutter with clear water intrusion into the wall.   I'm guessing his next step is to blame us.  He would not clean any of the house gutters, even though we have photos that they are clogged and the gutter company says they are rusted,   

    We have only lived here for 2 months-- so pretty sure we did not cause the gutters to rust.  I have been paying out of pocket to get them cleaned and other basic maintenance.  Given the current approach of avoidance, or suggesting that "I'm just confused", that I need to have a lawyer in my court.   

    Emotionally, I need someone to handle this because the landlord is running me in circles.

    Any current recommendations?  Preference focus only on real estate and only on the tenant side if possible.


    Not sure if you already found one yet. Try David Simon at Simon Law (he has a couple of offices between SF to Walnut Creek).  He represented us against my HOA (Piedmont Ave area).  Here is his website:

    Good Luck!!

  • Urgent Need of Housing Tenants Rights Attorney for Single Parent (Pro Bono if possible)

    to stop eviction and deal with the City of Oakland

    Please email br.housing [at]

    Hopefully you will get some responses with referrals. My suggestion is first to call the Alameda County Bar Association. They have programs for referring people to attorneys with reduced rates especially for lower income clients. Second, start googling tenants/housing rights attorneys in your area, and just start calling. Tell them a recap of your story, tell them what you need, tell them you need someone who can consider taking your case pro bono or at a reduced rate. If they are willing to consider it, or even if it seems like they are interested in your case, meet for a consultation. All attorneys do pro bono work at some point. If an attorney you speak to can't help you or take you on at a rate you can afford, ask them to please refer you to a colleague who might be able to help. Keep trying -- you will find someone this way. It will take some time and work but it is possible (been there, when I needed a family law attorney years ago but couldn't afford full rates). Dealing with eviction and housing rights is tricky, and I think you are smart to want to find counsel to help you.  Good luck.

    I cannot find the original post, but if you are very low income you can try Bay Area Legal Aid, which generally serves people with extremely low incomes- around 150% of the federal poverty level (around $40K for a family of 4.)  Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Seeking an attorney in the E Bay for tenant abuse

Sept 2013

Hello, I am writing this message for a friend who's in a bad housing situation. She and her partner live in an apartment in Oakland and there are only three units in the building. The landlady has been abusive and and physically violent as well as making horrific noise above them to punish them. They have had to call the police. They looked for low cost legal help and could find no one to help them. Since their building only has three units, Just Cause could be of no help to them. They don't have a lot of money for an attorney and one of them is permanently disabled. I know it's a long shot, but does anyone out there know of an attorney who handles tenant/landlord cases that might work in some sort of non-profit setting. I believe that they have a strong case. They have kept records of everything. If anyone knows of anyone out there who could help or might know of some referrals, that would be so appreciated. anonymous

Berkeley's Rent Stabilization Board has a website with a lot of helpful links: Tenant_Local_Resources.aspx

This includes contact info for the East Bay Community Law Center, Eviction Defense Center, Tenants Together, and Bay Area Legal Aid. Also, mediation services such as: SEEDS Community Resolution Center, and the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board (could give references/suggestions if their jurisdiction doesn't include Oakland).

Legal: Lawyers in the Library - Berkeley Public Library, Alameda County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, Alameda County Bar Association Volunteer Legal Services Program, California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Best of luck, A Berkeley apartment manager

Call Bay Area Legal Aid. They have offices in Richmond, Oakland and other Bay Area cities. They can definitely help or put you in the right direction. Anonymous

Hello, I feel terrible for your friends - that sounds like an awful position to be in as tenants. I recommend that they contact Michael Bracamontes at Bracamontes & Vlasak. This law firm is located in San Francisco, but Michael is very familiar with tenants rights in all of the east bay cities (he went to law school at UC Berkeley). The attorneys at B are really excellent at what they do. Also, in many cases firms that handle tenants rights issues do not require upfront payment, but rather work on a contingency basis, so your friends' lack of funds should not be an issue. BV Law: 415-835-6777 anon

Phone or call the Tobener Law Center in San Francisco (though I believe they have an office in Oakland). They have helped me and other who have been in similar situations. Talk with them I am sure they will do their best to try and work within the constraints of their situation. Their website is and their phone number is 510-250-5635 Best of luck. Anon

Tenant Lawyer to help get out of lease

July 2013

The rental house my family moved into in March is infested with rat mites. All of us who live here, me, my 2 year old, and my husband are being bitten regularly. The bites are extremely itchy and last for several days. I have had several pest controllers out and they all agree that keeping rats out of the crawl space and attic will be costly and very difficult due to the type of foundation and roof tiles on this house. I'm also 8 months pregnant and don't want to subject my newborn to itchy bites especially since they are coming from potentially diseased rats. I'm planning a home birth and am not excited about giving birth among the invisible mites either. Does anyone have a recommendation for a tenant lawyer that could help us get out of our lease? I'm due at the end of July and feel like I'm running out of time to allow my landlord to resolve the issue. JC

I cannot recommend the Tobener Law Center enough, they specialized in these matters. They are a law firm that does not seem like a law firm. They are personable and their rates were reasonable. You can contact them through their website. They have done wonders for me in the past. Best of luck. Anon

Yuckkkk!!! Frightening!!! If you have already asked that ''landlord'' to release you from your lease and that ''landlord'' has refused, I'm SHOCKED and saddened!!! Run - do not walk - call local city (where you live) and county health inspectors ASAP! Call your local ''rent board,'' if there is a ''rent board'' in your city. Show health officials photographic evidence of these bites, welts, whatever, and show health inspectors reports from California-licensed pest control exterminators, and MOVE!!! The State of California health code requires housing be ''habitable''! Bug infested homes are not LEGALLY ''habitable''!!! Careful Property Owner

In need of a Tenant Lawyer

Jan 2013

Can anyone recommend a tenant rights attorney in Berkeley? Thank you. Eric EM

Jean Shrem is a local mom, attorney, and real estate broker. She can help you with landlord and tenant issues. 510-882-9992, Jean [at] . . SP in Berkeley

Andrew Wolfe. In downtown Oakland should be fine for a Berkeley case. He handled my case expertly. Best of luck. Anon

Call Joe Tobener in San Francisco. I believe he also has an office in Oakland. He helped me out with my landlord who was not making repairs in Albany, and he helped a group of my friends who were wrongfully evicted from a place in San Francisco. Joe was up front, caring, and did not come across as your typical lawyer. He has a lot of information on his site: http:// Best of luck. Rebecca

Lawyer for renters rights protection in Oakland

Aug 2010

We sold our house very quickly and had to find a month-to- month rental in a very short period while looking for our next home. We ended up renting in Oakland from a woman we now believe is not paying property taxes and is forging our signatures and falsifying information to her bank saying we are living together as roommates. She will not provide an address to forward mail, and enters the home without our consent. She is very threatening and texts me threats that if we do not find ways to help her get her loan refinanced then she will change the locks. We have small children and find her behavior very disturbing.

We paid 2 months deposit and first and last months rent totalling over $15,000 - even though we knew the longest we would occupy the home would be 6 months. We want to ensure we get our deposits back and are very worried since she appears to be insolvent. Does anyone have any recommendations for a renters rights attorney? She had promised us that we would receive the deposits in full after our walk-through, but now is trying to say she never agreed to that and lost the signed copies of our initial lease. Any recommendations on how to protect ourselves will be appreciated, as we are planning to move within the next month. Heather

I highly recommend Toni Mims-Cochran. She has been a tenant attorney in Oakland for 13 years. She represents tenants in unlawful detainer actions (evictions), wrongful evictions, lawsuits against the landlord who fail to maintain their properties in a habitable condition. She also represents tenants who are being evicted from forceclosed properties. She has an excellent reputation in the landlord/tenant community. Her info is as follows: Law Offices of Toni Mims-Cochran 1814 Franklin Street, Suite 907 Oakland, CA 94612 510-465-3210

Need to understand my rights as a tenant

June 2008

I'm looking for an attorney who can help me understand my rights as a tenant regarding landlord/tenant boundaries. I rent a house in Oakland with my two children and my landlord lives downstairs. She is entering my unit when I'm not there, telling my kids to do things for her, stopping the mail without my knowledge, etc. I spoke to my landlord regarding the about. She agreed not to do them but over time, she forgets. To help her remember, I put it in writing which made things worst. She got upset and told me, ''itbon the network are from 1999.s MY house!'' I want my landlord to know that she is my landlord and nothing more. She is not a family member or friend. Or am I being too hard on her? Does anyone know of an attorney who deals with landlord/tenant boundaries? Thank you

Hi there, My husband is a property attorney and stated that your landlord is in the wrong, but that it probably wouldn't make sense for you to pay his firm $275/hr to take the case and suggested you start with the below resource: Best of luck.

Check out or go to your library and look for their book, California Tenant's Rights. It should tell you everything you need to know and how to handle it for much less than a lawyer. Cris

2004 - 2007 Recommendations

Need help dealing with my landlord

Nov 2006

My housemates and I are looking for help dealing with our landlord. We've had a difficult time getting the most basic repairs made (leaking roof, rotting deck, etc.). We'd like to find a lawyer or other person or organization that specializes in tenant/landlord issues. We live in Oakland, so it would need to be someone that is familiar with tenant rights in Oakland. Thanks for any suggestions Diane

It was several years ago, but I had a wonderful experience with Andy Cohn in Berkeley. I went to him as a landlord, but I know he also represents tenants, and has worked several cases in Oakland. I went to him because I had very difficult tenants that had violated their lease, and when confronted, not only denied the infractions, but made threatening remarks to me. I was very impressed with how skillfully Andy defused the situation, and was able to negotiate an outcome that everyone accepted - without having to go to court. I always felt that Andy had my best interests at heart, while also being fair to my tenants.

His contact information is: Andrew S. Cohn 1942 University Ave, Suite 206 Berkeley, CA 94704-1024 510-841-4796

Also, have you looked into tenants-rights organizations? I had a friend that worked for one in San Francisco that offered free legal services to tenants - there may be a similar organization in Oakland -former landlord, not the evil kind

I don't have any attorney referrals but wonder if you have tried contacting a City housing inspector. In Berkeley, if your landlord refuses to fix serious problems with the unit's condition, you can request a City housing inspection. If the landlord is cited for housing code violations, the landlord must correct the violations and face fines if s/he does not. There is probably a similar process in Oakland. Try contacting the Code Compliance Division of the City of Oakland's Community & Economic Development Agency (CEDA). Start at the main webpage, Under State law, tenants have a ''repair and deduct'' remedy, found in Civil Code section 1942. It is quite specific and certain procedures must be followed. You can find the text of this section at Good luck Anon

Attorney who specializes in landlord / tenant disputes

July 2004

Hello - I am looking for updated recommendations on attorneys specializing in landlord / tenant disputes. Thanks for your help! Jane

There is a law firm in Oakland called Fitzgerald Abbott & Beardsley and they do landlord/tenant disputes. It's a very well-respected firm with great attorneys. They've been around for a million years

Your message doesn't specify whether you are a landlord or tenant. Many attorneys specialize in one side or the other. If you are a tenant having a problem with your landlord, I suggest you call Robert DeVries at (415) 546-5100. He is very experienced in tenant representation. Ann

I'd highly recommend Jeffrey Carter in downtown Berkeley for landlord/tenant disputes. His office number is 510-548-4774.

Here are some recommendations for landlord/tenant matters:
Stewart Schwartz - 510-548-8585 - Does property owner disputes and may do landlord/tenant disputes Zona Sage - 510-420-1410 - does tenant side - usually big cases Leah Hess - 510-451-3103 - tenant side Sally Elkington - 510-601-0404 - tenant side Ron Wong - 510841-9664 - landlord side

I recommend Michael St. John. He's actually a mediator, not a lawyer but he was very helpful to us in negotiating a tenant/landlord problem. He took a measured, realistic, ''win- win'' approach. We ended up paying our tenant to vacate. She got a good chunk of money and we got to move into the unit. I think everyone was satisfied. He's a long-time Berkeley resident and very knowledgeable about rent control. Phone number for St. John Associates is 510 845-8928 happy dweller

2003 & Earlier

Lawyer for Berkeley eviction

August 1999

Would like referrals to lawyers experienced in assisting with renter's rights in Berkeley (specifically eviction).

I hope you have been to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board. There are very specific just causes for eviction in Berkeley, and the rent board can determine if the causes apply in your case. The number of evictions in Berkeley has *tripled this year because of the new vacancy decontrol regulation! Becky

I'd like to recommend Bill Simpich 444-0226 in Oakland. I used him for a lawsuit against a landlord and settled to my satisfaction. He is a great negotiater. He often seems to be very busy but, in the end, worth it I found.

Another good tenant attorney is Sally Elkington on Telegraph in Berkeley, located next to Mama Bears. Her number is 601-0404. Good luck. Dylyn

My husband, Timothy Rumberger, is an excellent tenant's rights attorney with ten years experience practicing in Berkeley. He is always busy, but I know he would be willing to discuss any questions you may have about your eviction or any affirmative claims you may have against your landlord. It may take him a while to get back to you just now. We have a two-month old and we're still not getting much sleep. His number is 510-841-5500 and his office is at Center & Shattuck in Downtown Berkeley.

Berkeley Community Law Center works with tenants who qualify for free services due to income. I am sure that they can rec. a good lawyer if your income disqualifies you from receiving free services. The berkeley rent board may also be able to rec. a good lawyer. Jeremiah

I would also like to recommend a very good, experienced tenants' rights attorney, Phil Rapier (who's also a very nice person). His number is 510-444-6262. He graduated from Boalt Law School in 1983. He may, however, be on vacation right now. Karen

There's only one who is the best and most reasonably priced: for 30 years everyone knows that's Jeff Carter in Berkeley. I founded the Berkeley Tenants Union and I've known him since '69. I get no benefit from this rec. He's just the sweetest and smartest guy. I won't even tell him I posted this. We're friends because of our parenting.