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Tenant Illegally Locked Out By Landlord

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.

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Attorney answers 2

Best Answer

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 your lawyer. 2. Opinions are like noses--everyone has one. I just happen to think my opinions are right, but check with another lawyer too.



Just calling that city's lawyer referral service (see: Bar association) and getting a 30 minute session with an lawyer could turn things quickly in your favor. Do it. Do not procrastinate.


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 general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.



If I were this person, I would file a complaint with the city's real estate board (sure it has its down name in Cali), as well as file a complaint with the State Attorney General. TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! Be sure to send it certified return receipt requested.