The eviction process in the San Francisco Bay Area might seem pretty simple. A tenant fails to make good on rent, so they’re provided with notice and removed from the premises, right? The truth is that the eviction process can be much more complicated than that, and an improperly handled eviction can be illegal, resulting in the landlord being subjected to extensive fines and legal liability.
What constitutes a wrongful eviction?
There are a lot of actions that can constitute a wrongful eviction. While some of them involve failing to follow legal technicalities, others are more egregious in that they constructively evict a tenant without notice. Let’s look at some of those constructive evictions here:
- Changing the locks: Although not an actual eviction, changing the locks on an apartment or locking a driveway can constitute a constructive eviction. After all, the individual who lives there is unable to enter the premises to retrieve their personal belongings.
- Cutting off services: Shutting off water, electricity, and other necessary services can force a tenant out of a house or an apartment. However, doing so is illegal.
- Harassing the tenant: Landlords can’t simply annoy or intimate a tenant to such an extent that it forces the tenant to move out. Landlords sometimes try to get away with things like conducting construction at all hours of the day so as to drive out a tenant, but this, too, is against the law.
- Removing the tenant’s belongings: Some tenants move out because their possessions are removed from the property, and they mistakenly think that they’ve been legally removed from the premises. This is known as a constructive eviction.
- Retaliating: Landlords are prohibited from refusing to renew a lease or otherwise evicting a resident for that tenant’s exercise of a protected right. This can be a difficult issue for some landlords to navigate, but that doesn’t exempt them from this prohibition.
There are other issues that can result in a constructive or otherwise illegal eviction. So, if you’re worried about some action that has been taken, then you might want to consider discussing the issue with an attorney who is experienced in these kinds of landlord-tenant legal issues.
Why does this matter?
Wrongful evictions can lead to significant penalties. Under California law, a landlord who wrongfully convicts a tenant can be fined up to $2,000 and found liable to the tenant for $100 per day for each day that the tenant has been wrongfully removed from the premises. A landlord may also be found liable for other expenses incurred by the “evicted” tenant, such as relocation costs and expenses tied to securing another residence. A tenant who has been wrongfully evicted may also have a valid argument for court costs and attorney fees.
Also, a landlord who is found liable for a wrongful eviction may face damage to its reputation, which may affect business operations and practices moving forward. In other words, there’s a lot on the line for everyone involved.