It continues to state in subsection (b) that “a landlord shall not, with intent to terminate the occupancy under any lease” agreement where the tenant uses the property as his or her residence, “willfully: (1) prevent the tenant from gaining reasonable access to the property by changing the locks or using a bootlock or by any other similar method or device; (2) remove outside doors or windows; or (3) remove from the premises the tenant’s personal property, the furnishings, or any other items without the prior written consent of the tenant, except when done pursuant to the procedure set forth in Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 1980) of Title 5 of Part 4 of Division 3.”
Looking at the Code, it states that a landlord may not willfully, by either direct or even indirect action, cause any of the stated actions above. The examples stated in the Code should are clear about what a landlord cannot do, but, as always, there is a gray area.
What if a tenant has repeatedly complained about the plumbing, although you have sent a plumber out each complaint and the plumber did not find anything wrong with the plumbing? Now, at the most recent complaint, you decide to not send a plumber out thinking it will force the tenant to move? Bad idea, do not do this. You may be indirectly causing the interruption or termination of any utility service.
Of course, certain people, attorneys or not, may say that the above situation would be permissible because you, as a landlord, did not create the situation “willfully” as the code states. However, a competent attorney would most likely not advise you to act this way. You may be subjecting yourself to civil liability. According to the California Code of Civil Procedure section 789.3, subsection (c), a landlord who violates the Code shall be civilly liable to tenant for actual damages, daily damages not to exceed $100 a day for every day the landlord was in violation of the law, and for not less than $250 for each cause of action where repeated violations can serve as separate causes of action. The law is clear, it is written to preclude landlords from doing something to force their tenant out of the property unlawfully and should a landlord do that, the Court will make sure they will pay for it. Also, per California Code of Civil Procedure section 789.3(d), the court has broad discretion to award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party, which could be the tenant should he or she win.
There are more sections of the code, which preclude “self-help”, which is anything a landlord may do to get a tenant out of the their property. If you need to get a tenant out of your property, our advice would be to do it aggressively, quickly, and right the first time.
Should you need experienced lawyers, call Bristol, Haynes & Associates for a free consultation at (909) 466-5575.
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