What’s Constructive Eviction in California?

California law guarantees tenants the right to a safe, livable home when they rent or lease from a landlord. When the conditions in the rental unit become uninhabitable and the landlord has not fixed the problems, tenants may be able to legally abandon their house without fulfilling their rental agreement or lease obligations because the landlord has forcefully evicted them by failing to keep the property habitable. However, the courts do not take this remedy lightly, and tenants who wrongfully abandon their rental unit will be held accountable to the lease.

What Is Constructive Eviction?

Constructive eviction is any attempt by a landlord to evict a lawful tenant without filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit with the court, followed by properly serving the summons and complaint on the tenant. The court must issues a judgment in the unlawful detainer case before a landlord can physically remove the tenant from the premises. Any effort to bypass the unlawful detainer process is an illegal "self-help" or "constructive" eviction.

Under California Civil Code § 1940.2, some illegal eviction tactics include:

  • Steal or take the property of a tenant valued at $950 or under in violation of California Penal Code § 484(a).

  • Blackmail a tenant into leaving the rental unit in violation of California Penal Code § 518.

  • Behavior, or threats to use force or act menacingly, that would create an apprehension of harm in a reasonable person and interferes with the tenant's quiet enjoyment of their home.

  • Commit an intentional and significant violation of California Civil Code § 1954.

  • Threaten to disclose the immigration information or citizenship status of the tenant or another person the landlord knows is associated with the tenant.

A landlord who constructively evicts a tenant may have to pay damages to cover relocation expenses and temporary housing expenses, for example, in addition to paying hefty civil penalties.

Are There Exceptions?

The principles of constructive eviction do not apply to someone who is living in a rental unit that is not a tenant, such as a guest or a trespasser. However, under California law, any adult who has lived in a rental unit for more than 30 days with the landlord's permission or knowledge is considered a tenant, even if they are not paying rent or there is no written rental agreement.

The laws also do not apply to people who are no longer on the premises, such as someone who cannot return to the unit because of a restraining order or a tenant who has abandoned the property. For the latter scenario, the landlord must have persuasive evidence that the tenant has abandoned the property to re-take possession without going through the unlawful detainer process.

Contact a Lawyer If a Landlord Attempts to Force You Out of Tenancy

In rent-controlled jurisdictions, it is a common tactic of landlords and real estate management companies to indirectly attempt to force tenants out of rent-controlled units by refusing to make repairs within a reasonable amount of time, so that the unit becomes uninhabitable and the tenants get fed up and abandon the premises “voluntarily.” Unfortunately, this unlawful tactic works all too often, forcing rent-controlled tenants out of safer neighborhoods because of a landlord’s intentional neglect.

In constructive eviction cases, the Tenants Law Firm holds the landlord or management company liable for their habitability code violations and attempted wrongful eviction. Tenants in constructive eviction cases are entitled to damages, including rent differential damages.

If you have been the victim of constructive eviction from a Los Angeles area rent-controlled tenancy, contact an experienced tenant’s attorney at Tenants Law Firm today to learn more about your rights and how we can help. To schedule an initial consultation, reach out by calling us at (310) 432-3200 or by filling out our contact form.