Edward Henderson, California Black Media
Statewide — On Wednesday, July 13, Attorney General Rob Bonta hosted a virtual press conference to announce new directives to help protect tenants against unlawful eviction from their landlords.
“California’s families are facing a housing affordability crisis at levels we have never seen before,” said Bonta. “About 1 in 7 renters in California are behind on their rent potentially facing eviction. With the state’s last remaining eviction moratorium expiring just a few days ago, the threat of eviction is here.”
The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Housing Strikeforce has received numerous reports of landlords conducting unlawful lock outs and “self-help evictions”. These evictions include changing locks without a court order, shutting off water or electricity, or removing a tenant’s personal property to force them to leave their homes. Landlords are resorting to these tactics to avoid having to appear in court.
In response to these reports, Bonta issued the new legal bulletin to law enforcement agencies across the state to prevent and respond to unlawful lockouts and self-help evictions.
“While landlords may be frustrated, they have a responsibility to go through proper proceedings if eviction is the necessary next step. Let me be clear: That means filing a case in court. You cannot change the locks, shut off power, or remove personal property in order to force a tenant out of their home. These so-called self-help evictions are unlawful. Full stop. And you may be held civilly or criminally liable. Today’s guidance underlines law enforcement’s important role in responding to reports of illegal evictions and their responsibility to intervene to enforce the law and stop self-help evictions when they see them,” Bonta said.
AB 1482 (“the California Tenant Protection Act of 2019”) prohibits landlords from evicting most tenants without “just cause.” According to the law, there are two kinds of evictions: “at fault” evictions and “no fault” evictions. At fault evictions include failure to pay rent, criminal activity on the premises, and refusal to allow lawful entry. No fault evictions include owner move-in, remodeling that requires permits and will take more than 30 days, and intent to demolish the unit.
Bonta’s new guidance for law enforcement called to a dispute between a landlord and tenant dictates the following:
Law enforcement should never help a landlord evict a tenant by force or by threats.
Only the sheriff or marshal or their deputies may evict a tenant and only with a court order. Other peace officers should not ask the tenant to leave their home.
Law enforcement should advise the landlord or other persons involved that it is a misdemeanor to force tenants out of a rental property and should instruct them to allow the tenant back into the home.
Law enforcement should advise the landlord to seek legal advice if they have an issue with a tenant.
Law enforcement should write a report about the incident even if no arrest is made.
“For our part at DOJ, as long as the housing affordability, availability and equity crisis is here, we’re going to keep on pushing forward,” said Bonta. “Every Californian deserves to have a roof over their head, and I’m committed to using all the tools of my office to advance Californian’s housing rights.”
Jessica Jewell, Deputy Director at California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc (CRLA) also spoke at the virtual presser to support the DOJ’s efforts and provide helpful information to tenants who have experienced unlawful evictions. The CRLA is a non-profit organization providing legal services with a focus on housing, employment, education and rural income issues.
“Today we applaud the attorney general’s office for the action they have taken and the guidance they have issued today,” said Jewell. “While the unlawful detainer process provides tenants some protection, the process can also be intimidating and inaccessible, especially for low-income tenants who cannot afford to hire a private attorney when often landlords have strong legal representation.”
Bonta also encouraged individuals with reports of landlord’s attempting an illegal eviction to send a complaint via email to email@example.com.