Say No to self-help

Illegal Evictions


Understanding Why to Say No to Illegal Evictions


What is an Illegal Eviction?


Illegal EvictionsAn illegal eviction is when a landlord takes it upon his or herself to evict a tenant without a court order.  A landlord may have what is considered “just cause” to evict, but most States, including California, have laws prohibiting any form of self-help evictions.  Landlords must go to court and get a court order and go through the eviction process.


What are examples of an illegal eviction?


An illegal eviction is the result of any action taken by the landlord that is intended to induce a tenant to vacate a rental unit without a court order.  Any of the following is prohibited:


  • Changing the locks without telling the tenant(s)
  • Removing the tenant’s belongings from the rental unit
  • Shutting off the tenant’s utilities
  • Refusing to perform necessary repairs
  • Boarding up exterior doors and/or windows
  • Removing exterior doors, windows, and/or walls to make it otherwise unsafe to occupy
  • Harassment – which can give rise to a cause of action in itself


What are the Consequences of performing an illegal eviction?


A tenant who is a victim of an illegal eviction can sue for damages of $100 for each day the landlord has kept the tenant out of the rental unit.  The minimum fine per cause of action is $250.  Any landlord who violates this section is liable to the tenant for actual damages and reasonable attorney fees (C.C.C. §789.3).


In addition, a landlord who performs a self-help eviction may be found guilty of a misdemeanor of forcible entry (C.C.P. §1159) or forcible detainer (C.C.P. §1160).


However, suing a landlord may not be in the tenant’s best interest.  The landlord can counterclaim or sue to evict the tenant in response to the suit.  The violation against self-help evictions does not relieve the tenant of his duty to pay past due rent.


what Other Options are there to an illegal eviction?


If those residing in the rental unit are holdover tenants (one who stays past the expired lease) or squatters (one who is lives on the premise without permission), the only recourse is to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to evict them (see, San Jose Eviction Process).


If the person is a trespasser (one who entered the premises by force), the landlord should call the police to have them arrested.