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.
What You Can Do
- 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 citizen’s 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 (Prop M) 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.
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. 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 landlord—or anyone acting for your landlord—may 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 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. 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 SF Public Utilities Commission 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 Section 1942.2 and Public Utilities Code Section 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 Sections 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.
- Follow the remedies for getting repairs made.
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.
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 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 Court.
- You can ask for a court order to keep the landlord from locking you out again.
The Eviction Process
See The Eviction Process for the legal process of eviction.
Tenant are often pressured to take buyouts under a threat of eviction. You are not required to take a buyout and there may be many defenses to the eviction. Additionally, buyouts of tenants are regulated.
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