State and local laws prevent landlords who wish to evict a tenant from engaging in self-help. A landlord may not take the law into his or her own hands and force a tenant out of a rental unit unless the landlord follows the law’s specific requirements. In California, a landlord must properly issue and deliver a written notice of termination of tenancy. (A thirty-day notice is required if the tenant has resided at the property for less than a year; a sixty-day notice is required if the tenant has resided at the property for a year or longer.) In San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and other “just cause for eviction” jurisdictions, a landlord can only evict a tenant under certain specific circumstances. If these circumstances do not exist, the landlord may not evict the tenant. For more on San Francisco’s Just Cause for Eviction protections, visit [...]. For more on Oakland’s Just Cause for Eviction protections, visit [...]. For more on Berkeley’s Just Cause for Eviction protections, visit [...].
What is a lockout?
In the landlord-tenant context, a lockout occurs when a landlord seeking to evict a tenant changes the locks to the rental unit to prevent the tenant from entering the rental unit and accessing the tenant’s personal property.
Are all lockouts illegal?
No. A landlord who wishes to recover legal possession of a rental unit must first terminate the tenancy by issuing the proper legal notice. If the landlord and tenant dispute who has the right to possession of the rental unit, the landlord may file an eviction (unlawful detainer) lawsuit, which provides a legal process of deciding this issue. If, at the conclusion of this process, the Court determines the landlord has the right to possession (i.e., the Court enters judgment for the landlord) and the tenant still refuses to vacate, the landlord may obtain a writ of possession. Then and only then, and only after proper notice to the tenant, does the law permit the landlord, with the assistance of the sheriff, to change the locks to the rental unit.
It is illegal for the landlord to change the locks before obtaining a writ of possession. California Civil Code Section 789.3(b) makes it illegal for a landlord with the intent to terminate the tenancy to (1) prevent the tenant from gaining reasonable access to the property by changing the locks; (2) remove outside doors or windows; or (3) remove the tenant’s personal property, furnishings, or any other items without the prior written consent of the tenant.
What do I do if my landlord has locked me out?
Call the police. If you can prove you reside at the address, the police may help facilitate your reentry by permitting a locksmith to come onsite and change the locks. Calling the police is also a good idea because it may provide documentation of the lockout. Should you decide to pursue legal claims against your landlord, a written record and witnesses will assist you in proving your case.
What damages can I recover if I have been locked out?
California Civil Code Section 789.3(c) makes a landlord who has illegally locked out a tenant liable for (1) actual damages and (2) a penalty of $100.00 for each day (or part of the day) the tenant remains locked out, with a minimum penalty of $250.00 for each subsequent or repeated violation. Additionally, California Civil Code Section 789.3(d) allows a tenant who prevails to recover attorney’s fees as well as a court order prohibiting the landlord from engaging in future lockouts. San Francisco residents who have been locked may also be entitled to treble damages under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. For more information on tenant harassment, visit [...].
How much time do I have to pursue damages against my landlord if I have been illegally locked out?
An illegal lockout may give rise to various claims against your landlord, and these claims may have varying statutes of limitations. However, the statute of limitations for an action for a statutory penalty (such as California Civil Code Section 789.3) is one year. Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 340(a).