Your Landlord Can’t Harass You
Your landlord—or anyone acting for your landlord—can’t harass you out of your home. Landlords cannot lock you out, shut off your utilities, forcibly enter your home without notice, remove your belongings, or harass you into leaving your home.
Landlords have found that harassing tenants is an effective way to force tenants to leave so the units can then be re-rented at higher rents or converted to condominiums. In 2008, San Francisco voters passed Prop M, which defines and prohibits harassment and gives tenants remedies ranging from getting a rent decrease at the Rent Board to treble damages. Prop M also helps tenants fight off unfounded eviction actions by giving tenants attorney’s fees whenever the tenant prevails in court in an eviction action. Click here for text of Prop M and a summary.
Your landlord or landlord’s agent can’t verbally or physically threaten or harass you. Just because he is the landlord, doesn’t mean he’s above the law.
What You Can Do
- Keep a log of every incident of harassment. You may need this later if you go to court.
- Write a letter to the landlord demanding that the harassment be stopped. Keep a copy of the letter.
- Do not be afraid to call the police if you feel threatened.
- You have the right to file for a Restraining Order in Superior Court restricting when your landlord may contact you. Forms are available at the Superior Court Clerk at the Superior Courthouse, corner of Polk and McAllister Streets. You can probably do this without an attorney; if you need help, talk to a Tenants Union counselor.
- If the harassment doesn’t stop and gets worse, you can:
- File for a decrease in your rent at the Rent Board
- 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 under Prop M (Section 37.10B of Chapter 37 in San Francisco Administrative Code and/or $5,000 statutory damages for each such threat under California Civil Code 1940.2.
Under California Civil Code Section 1954, a landlord or landlord’s agent can enter your home without your consent only by giving you 24 hours written notice and only in the following situations:
- To make necessary or agreed-upon repairs
- To show it to prospective tenants, buyers, mortgage holders, repair persons, or contractors.
- When the tenant has moved.
- When there is a court order authorizing entry by the landlord.
(Click here for article on landlord entry by tenant attorney Wally Oman)
What You Can Do:
- 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, Monday through Friday, 9-5.
- 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 you are provided 24 hours’ notice. If your rental agreement has a clause forbidding alterations to the premises, call the Tenants Union before you take this step.
Abuse of entry rights is prohibited by Prop M, SF Administrative Code Chapter 37, Section 10B, and tenants can get a rent decrease for abuse of entry by the landlord (or realtor).
Your landlord—or anyone acting for your landlord—may not shut off any of your utilities for purpose of evicting or harassing you. Utilities include: water, heat, gas, electricity, elevator service and telephone.
What You Can Do:
- 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. Keep a copy.
- Call the utility company and try to get the service turned back on.
- Under California Civil Code Section 789.3, you can sue the landlord for up to $100 per day, but not less than $250, plus actual damages and attorney’s fees. You can hire a lawyer to bring suit or file suit in Small Claims Court.
- File with the San Francisco Rent Board (25 Van Ness Ave) for a reduction in rent because your services have been reduced.
Your landlord—or anyone acting for your landlord—can’t 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.
What You Can Do:
- 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 Penal Code 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. Keep a copy of the letter; it will be good evidence if you have to take the landlord to court later.
- Under California Civil Code Section 789.3, you can sue the landlord for up to $100 per day, but not less than $250, for damages, plus attorney’s fees. You can hire a lawyer to bring suit or file suit in Small Claims Court.
- You can ask the court to keep the landlord from locking you out again.
The Eviction Process
There are five main steps before you can be evicted:
- You must receive a three (“fault” evictions) or sixty day (“no fault”) notice.
- You must receive a copy of the eviction lawsuit (called Unlawful Detainer); Note that you only have FIVE DAYS to respond.
- You and your landlord go to court and tell you story to a judge or jury.
- There must be a court judgment against you.
- The sheriff must come to evict you if the court rules against you; only the sheriff can have you physically removed, even if the court ruled against you.
What You Can Do:
Upon receiving a three or thirty day notice, you may be able to negotiate with the landlord to correct the problem. This notice does not mean you have to move out in three (or sixty) days, it merely means the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit after the three (or sixty) days expires. If the landlord agrees to negotiate, get any arrangements you make in writing. If the landlord is unable to put them in writing, you can write a letter confirming your oral agreement. Make sure to keep copies of all agreements and letters.
If your landlord is unwilling to negotiate and serves you with an eviction lawsuit, you will need some help. Call the San Francisco Tenants Union (282-6622) or, if you have received a Summons & Complaint, bring it and all your paperwork to the Eviction Defense Collaborative at 995 Market St., Suite 1200 (at 6th St).
The SF Tenants Union is supported only by your memberships and donations. If you find information on this web site useful, or if you want to support our work, please join or donate. Members get even more information via our Tenants Rights Handbook plus access to phone counseling
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