What Are Landlord Harassment Laws in California?
Your landlord cannot physically or verbally harass or threaten you in your home to force you to move out under California state law and most local ordinances. Legally, harassment is defined as occurring when a landlord uses aggressive methods, coercion, fraud, or intimidation to get the tenant to move, disrupting the tenant’s right to the quiet enjoyment of their rental property. There are some common examples of harassing conduct that landlords use to try and force tenants out of their homes which are unlawful:
A landlord cannot lock you out;
A landlord cannot remove your belongings;
A landlord cannot shut off your utilities;
A landlord cannot forcibly enter your home without notice; and
A landlord cannot harass you into leaving your home.
If your landlord has done any of the above to you, then you may be protected under California law. Read on for more information.
Why Do Landlords Harass Their Tenants?
In rent-controlled jurisdictions, such as Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood, landlords desperately want long-time tenants to move so they can raise the rent to market rate and earn more money from renting out the unit. Relying on the base assumption that tenants do not know their legal rights, landlords will harass long-time tenants to force them to move out instead of going through the costly eviction process. Most importantly, the landlord typically must resort to these shady tactics to force long-time tenants out because the landlord usually has no actual cause to evict the tenant other than their bad faith motivation to substantially raise the rent.
Are Tenants Protected Against Landlord Harassment in California?
Yes, landlord harassment is illegal. Under California Civil Code § 1940.2, a landlord cannot unlawfully force a tenant out of their apartment or home using the following methods:
Engaging in forceful, threating, or menacing conduct;
Disclosing information regarding the perceived immigration or citizenship status of the tenant or someone close to them;
Threatening to call immigration authorities to force a tenant out;
Interfering with the tenant's right to quiet enjoyment of their property;
Entering the rental unit without the tenant's consent in substantial violation of the law; and
Taking, depriving, or removing the tenant's property from their home without permission.
A landlord only needs to engage in aggressive or intimidating conduct to be found liable, meaning the landlord does not have to successfully force the tenant out of the rental unit for the tenant to be awarded damages. A landlord who has illegal harassed a tenant may have to pay civil penalties up to $2,000 for each instance of harassment, under California Civil Code § 1940.2.
Additionally, under California Civil Code §1940.35, a landlord will be ordered to pay damages if they disclose information regarding the tenant's immigration or citizenship status to a government official to harass, intimidate, or retaliate against the tenant. For each tenant whose status was disclosed, a landlord will be ordered to pay mandatory statutory damages in an amount between 6 and 12 times the monthly rent charged where the tenant resides.
What Should Tenants Do If Their Landlord Harasses Them?
If your landlord is harassing you, here are some steps you can take to ensure your safety and well-being:
It is crucial to write down every time your landlord harasses you, as this incident log may be helpful if you go to court. The record should include the date and time each incident occurred, and if possible, any witness statements from friends or neighbors.
Write your landlord a letter demanding that they stop the harassment, and keep a copy of the letter.
Call the police if you feel unsafe or threatened.
File for a restraining order in court, so you can restrict when your landlord can see you.
Talk to an attorney if the harassment does not stop or continues to get worse.
Since it can be challenging to prove landlord harassment claims, your diligence in logging each incident of harassment is vital. The log of evidence you provide will be proof of the harassment for both the restraining order hearing and the lawsuit against the landlord.
What Should Tenants Do If Their Landlord Retaliates?
Tenants have additional protections against landlord retaliation. If a tenant has asserted their right to stand up against harassment and filed a complaint against their landlord, it is illegal for the landlord to engage in any retaliatory behavior in response to the tenant asserting their legal right.
California Civil Code §1942.5, the state's anti-retaliation statute, prevents a landlord from harassing a tenant after they have asserted their rights as a tenant. Under the anti-retaliation law, a landlord cannot report or threaten to report a tenant to immigration authorities, decrease housing services, attempt to recover possession, increase rent, terminate the tenancy, or threaten any of these, in retaliation for the tenant asserting their rights. If a landlord violates this prohibition, they may be liable for actual damages, punitive damages up to $2,000 per retaliatory act, and attorney's fees.
Since it can be challenging to prove landlord harassment and retaliation claims, it is important to contact a tenants’ rights attorney with extensive experience with these types of cases. At Tenants Law Firm, our passionate team protects tenants against harassment by landlords, so that you will not be forced out of your home unlawfully. Contact us today by calling this number (310) 432-3200 or by filling out this online contact form.