Your landlord, or
anyone acting for your landlord, cannot harass you out of your
home. Landlords cannot evict you by just locking you out, shutting off your utilities, forcibly
entering your home without notice, or removing your belongings.
Since landlords frequently harass tenants to force tenants to leave so the units can be re-rented at higher rents or converted to condominiums, San Francisco voters passed Prop M. Prop M defines and prohibits harassment and gives tenants remedies ranging from getting a rent decrease at the Rent Board to treble damages/$1,000 for each offense, and criminal penalties.
Your landlord or agent of the landlord cannot verbally or physically
threaten or harass you. Just because he is the landlord, does not
mean he is above the law.
Keep a log of every incident of harassment. You may need this later
if you go to court.
Obtain evidence such as witnesses. Videotaping, photographs, and sound recording is allowed where there is not an expectation of privacy.
Write a letter to the landlord demanding that the harassment be stopped. Send the letter with proof of mailing and
keep a copy of the letter.
Call the police if you feel threatened. If the police refuse to be involved even though assault or battery has been committed, you can try a citizens arrest.
You have the right to file for a Restraining Order in Superior Court
restricting when your landlord may contact you. You can probably do this without an attorney;
if you need help, talk to the Access Center.
If the harassment does not stop and gets worse, you can talk to an attorney
about suing your landlord. Tenants who are threatened with harm or force
by their landlords can now sue for triple any actual damages or $1,000 for each offense whichever is greater under Section 37.10B of the San Francisco Administrative Code and/or $2,000 statutory damages for each
such threat under California Civil Code Section 1940.2.
Under California Civil Code Section 1954, except for emergencies, a landlord or agent of the landlord can enter your home without your consent only by giving you at least 24 hours written notice and only in the following situations:
To make necessary or agreed-upon repairs or improvements.
To show it to prospective tenants, buyers, mortgage holders, or workers.
By court order.
Write a letter demanding these illegal entries be stopped. Demand
24 hours written notice for future entries. You can also demand that
these visits be made only during normal business hours. Open houses, however, are allowed on weekends.
Keep a list of all known entries. Talk to your neighbors. You can
serve as witnesses for each other.
Change your locks. There is no law that states a landlord must have
a key to your home. You must allow entry for proper reasons (above). If your rental agreement has a
clause forbidding alterations to the premises, talk to the Tenants Union
before you take this step.
Your landlordor anyone acting for your landlordmay not shut
off any of your utilities for the purpose of evicting or harassing you.
These utilities include: water, heat, gas, electricity, refrigeration, elevator service and
Keep a list of all incidents, the dates, and the length of time that
your service was turned off.
Inform your landlord in writing that you know your rights, the utility
cutoff is illegal and that you want the situation remedied immediately.
Send the letter with proof of mailing and keep a copy.
Call the utility company and try to get the service turned back on. State law requires that PG&E and the SFPUC continue to provide service to master metered, multi-unit, residential buildings when a public health or building officer certifies that the termination would result in a significant threat to the health or safety of the occupants or the public. (CA Public Utilities Code Sections 777.1(e)(5) and 10009.1(e)(5)) Tenants will need to work their way up from the desk staff and contact the PG&E legal department if necessary. Also, contact the San Francisco City Attorney who has successfully invoked this law. The Department of Building Inspection also can order gas and electrical service to continue when the service is about to be discontinued due to nonpayment.
The tenants may need to have the utility account transferred to their names. The law allows a tenant under these circumstances to withhold rent for the cost of the utility service. (CA Civil Code § 1942.2 and Public Utilities Code § 10009.1(d)) A safer route than withholding rent is to file an unlawful rent increase petition with the Rent Board if the tenant is covered by rent control. The utility companies might attempt to have tenants pay the money the landlord owes, but the law says that tenants cannot be forced to pay any past due balance owed by the landlord. (CA Public Utilities Code §§ 777(b), 777.1(a), 10009(b), and 10009.1(a))
In addition to the remedies under Prop M, under California Civil Code Section 789.3, you can sue the landlord
for a court order to turn the service back on, and up to $100 per day, but not less than $250, plus actual damages
and attorneys fees. You can hire a lawyer to bring suit or file suit
in Small Claims Court.
Criminal charges in addition to those provided by Prop M may be brought under
California Penal Code Sections 591, 593, 593c (felony for obstructing gas pipe), and 624.
Your landlord, or anyone acting for your landlord, cannot
lock you out, change your locks, plug the hole in your lock, remove
any part of your door or windows, remove your property, or in any fashion
try to block your entry to your home if the purpose is to harass or evict you illegally.
Keep a record of all such incidents.
You have a right to regain entry to the premises even if you have
to break in.
Call the police. The landlord is guilty of violating California Penal Code Section 418
and is liable for arrest.
Write a letter to your landlord stating that you are aware of your
rights as a tenant, that s/he is in clear violation of the law, and
that you want the situation remedied with no further harassment. Mail the letter with proof mailing and keep
a copy of the letter; it will be good evidence if you have to take the
landlord to court later.
Sue under Prop M and under California Civil Code Section 789.3 for up to $100 per day, but not less than $250, for damages, plus attorneys
fees. You can hire a lawyer to bring suit or file suit in Small Claims
You can ask the court to keep the landlord from locking you out again.
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