Tenants are often hesitant to complain to their landlord about the poor conditions of or repairs needed at the rental unit for fear of losing their rental unit. However, whether the tenant pays $50.00 or $5,000.00 per month in rent, all California tenants are entitled to the same minimum standards of tenantability/habitability in their rental unit. For more on these standards, visit [...]. In fact, it is illegal for a landlord to evict or attempt to evict a tenant who has done nothing other than exercise the tenant’s legal rights.
What is the legal definition of retaliation in the landlord-tenant context?
Retaliation occurs when two conditions are met. First, a landlord attempts to recover possession of a rental unit, cause the tenant to vacate their rental unit involuntarily, increase the rent, or decrease any services because the tenant has exercised his or her rights or made a complaint to a governmental agency about the poor conditions of the rental unit within the previous six months (180 days). Second, the tenant is not in default as to the payment of rent. Retaliation is a defense to an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit. See California Civil Code Section 1942.5(a).
What tenant actions are protected from retaliation?
A tenant’s rights protected from retaliation include the following: (1) the right to make an oral complaint to the landlord regarding the poor conditions of a rental unit; (2) the right to file a written complaint (or an oral complaint recorded in writing) with an appropriate agency, of which the landlord has notice, for the purpose of obtaining correction of a condition relating to the poor conditions of a rental unit; (3) the right to have an inspection or a citation issued as a result of a complaint to an appropriate agency; (4) the right to initiate a legal proceeding against the landlord involving the issue of the poor conditions of a rental unit; and (5) the right to obtain a judgment or arbitration award if the tenant prevails at the proceeding involving the issue of tenantability. The six-month period runs from the date of each of these events. See California Civil Code Section 1942.5(a)(1)–(5).
Does this mean a landlord cannot evict me within six months of exercising my legal rights?
No. A landlord may still recover possession of a rental unit, cause the tenant to vacate the unit involuntarily, increase the rent, or decrease services within six months of the tenant’s exercise of those specified rights if the notice of termination, rent increase, or other act states the ground upon which the landlord, in good faith, seeks to recover possession, increase rent, or decrease services. If the tenant disagrees that the landlord is acting in good faith, the landlord must prove it at trial or other hearing. See California Civil Code Section 1942.5(e).
What damages can I recover if my landlord has retaliated against me?
A landlord who illegally retaliates against a tenant is liable for (1) actual damages and (2) a penalty of between $100.00 and $2,000.00 for each retaliatory act where the landlord has been guilty of fraud, oppression, or malice with respect to the act. Additionally, a tenant who prevails may recover attorney’s fees. See California Civil Code Section 1942.5(f), (g). San Francisco residents who have been retaliated against may also be entitled to treble damages under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance.
How much time do I have to pursue damages against my landlord if my landlord has retaliated against me?
A case involving illegal retaliation may give rise to other various claims against a 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 1942.5) is one year. Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 340(a).