In California, it is illegal for a landlord or property owner simply to change the locks on a tenant, even if the tenant has not paid rent. Rather, the landlord must go through the eviction process with the court and obtain a judgment against the tenant. No one can kick you out of your home except the Sheriff enforcing a valid court judgment. If the landlord believes that you have abandoned the tenancy, the landlord must still follow the proper procedure of serving a notice of belief of abandonment.
The Right to Your Property
Often in lock-out cases, landlords wrongfully retain or discard the tenant's property in the unit. This can be devastating, and in many cases amounts to taking everything the tenant owns. Pursuant to California Civil Code section 1987, if your landlord has retained your personal property-even if you have been evicted pursuant to a valid court judgment-the landlord must release your personal property upon your request. The release may be conditioned only on the tenant paying reasonable storage costs. Once the tenant offers to pay such reasonable costs, the landlord must immediately release and surrender the property to the tenant. Failure to do so constitutes a tort of conversion of the tenant's property and results in the landlord's liability. Even in cases of abandonment, a landlord cannot lawfully auction or discard a tenant's property without notice.
Lawsuits for Lock-Outs
If you have been locked out of your rental unit without notice of an unlawful detainer action or notice of belief of abandonment, you remain in legal possession of the unit and have the right to regain entry. In addition, you likely have grounds for an affirmative lawsuit against the landlord for your damages. Pursuant to California Civil Code section 789.3, tenants are entitled to $100 dollars per day in statutory damages for illegal lock-outs. If the tenant can prove a violation of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, the landlord can be liable for treble (triple) damages and attorney's fees.