OAKLAND, CA. – Following reports of landlords unlawfully evicting tenants across the state, California Attorney General Rob Bonta called on law enforcement to prevent tenants from being unlawfully evicted from their homes.
Bonta issued new legal guidelines on Wednesday for officers to respond to unlawful or “self-help” evictions, nearly two weeks since statewide eviction protections expired.
The state Department of Justice’s Housing Strike Force cited cases of landlords changing locks, shutting off utilities, or removing a tenant’s belongings without permission, which could have legal or criminal implications.
“These so-called illegal self-help evictions are an attempt to avoid the courts and illegally evict tenants without regard to their rights and the law,” Bonta said. “Law enforcement should intervene to prevent illegal evictions.”
Under California law, the only legal way to evict a tenant is through a court order.
Bonta called the current situation a “housing affordability crisis” with one in seven Californians behind on rent and about 1.5 million at risk of eviction.
Tenant advocates say they are seeing an increase in threats, harassment and intimidation from some landlords in hopes of getting them out.
“We’re getting panicked calls from tenants,” said General Counsel Joe Colangelo of the Oakland Eviction Defense Center. “They don’t know what their landlord is going to do, and whether they’re going to go through the actual legal process or whether they’re going to try these illegal attempts to pressure or coerce them out.”
But the California Landlord Association disputes that illegal evictions are happening more frequently and that the majority of landlords know and follow the legal process.
“That’s just not true,” President Chris Airola said. “It’s a lie. We know the laws.”
In California counties and cities without additional tenant protections, landlords can legally evict tenants for nonpayment of rent, criminal activity, landlord moving in, among other reasons.
But landlords are required to go through the courts, which can take months for a judge to issue a legal order and for a sheriff or marshal to evict a tenant.
Among these new legal directions, Bonta pointed out that law enforcement has a responsibility to stop illegal evictions and work to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants.
“Today’s guidance underscores the important role of law enforcement in responding to reports of unlawful evictions,” Bonta said. “Self-help evictions are illegal – period.”
According to Sgt. Ray Kelly, who said many of these rules are already in place.
“We’re going to work with compassion understanding the frustrations of landlords and landlords while also understanding that there are people in the community who are struggling,” Kelly said. “They need a place to live, so we’re going to do it fairly.”
To report suspected illegal landlord activity, contact the state’s Housing Strike Force by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For landlords and renters needing additional resources and information, visit the state housing portal, including legal advice.
Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU