Tenant Illegally Locked Out By Landlord

Asked over 1 year ago - Moreno Valley, CA

I have paid my landlord without issue for the past year. The house is in foreclosure. When I was at work, my landlord illegally changed the locks to obtain money from the bank via cash for keys. He refuses to allow me the ability to regain entry or pick up my belongings or return my rental deposit and rent paid for this month. I am currently staying on a friend's couch due to this situation. Some of my personal belongings are very sentimental and important legal documents (passport, birth certificate, school transcripts, etc.) I want to know what legal forms I need to complete to regain entry. Thank you.

Attorney answers (2)

  1. Frank Wei-Hong Chen

    Contributor Level 20

    8

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . While I can't give you specific advice on what you need to do immediately, here is the general law on self-help evictions, which are against the law in California, as well as what you might be able to recover in a civil lawsuit.

    Landlords who effectively evict a tenant themselves without following the proper legal procedure run the risk of California penalties for self-help evictions.

    If a landlord violates the law by, for example, turning off the electricity in a unit, a tenant may sue the landlord. California Civil Code section 789.3 (a) provides as follows:

    "789.3. (a) A landlord shall not with intent to terminate the
    occupancy under any lease or other tenancy or estate at will, however
    created, of property used by a tenant as his residence willfully
    cause, directly or indirectly, the interruption or termination of any
    utility service furnished the tenant, including, but not limited to,
    water, heat, light, electricity, gas, telephone, elevator, or
    refrigeration, whether or not the utility service is under the
    control of the landlord.
    (b) In addition, a landlord shall not, with intent to terminate
    the occupancy under any lease or other tenancy or estate at will,
    however created, of property used by a tenant 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.
    Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to prevent the
    lawful eviction of a tenant by appropriate legal authorities, nor
    shall anything in this subdivision apply to occupancies defined by
    subdivision (b) of Section 1940."

    A landlord who violates California Civil Code Section 789.3 shall be liable to the tenant in a civil action for all of the following:

    -- Actual damages;
    -- $100/day of violation (with $250 minimum);
    -- An injunction prohibiting violation during the court action;
    -- The right to stay; and
    -- Reasonable attorney fees and costs.

    Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is... more
  2. Frances Miller Campbell

    Pro

    Contributor Level 15

    2

    Lawyers agree

    Best Answer
    chosen by asker

    Answered . Call the police. Tell them the situation. While they probably won't put you back in possession, they will likely accompany you to the house and talk to the landlord about (1) the law that he can't lock you out [this is called a 'self-help' eviction], or, at least (2) force the landlord to let you in so you can obtain your possessions.

    Locking someone out like this is a civil tort for which you can be compensated. I would suggest that you sue the landlord in small claims court (after you get your stuff) for the maximum possible, which is currently $10,000.00.

    Important things to remember: 1. The fact that I answered a question that you asked me on line, doesn't make me... more

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