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What can you do if the owner of your home – or their manager – is not respecting your rights around quiet enjoyment and entry to your home? Tenants in California have rights to protect themselves from blatant disrespect of privacy, especially when that disrespect is harassing, in retaliation for a tenant’s legal exercise of their rights, or physically threatening.
Let’s imagine that a landlord’s behavior has gone past simple annoyance into intentional disruption of your life. You have rights under state and county laws against this sort of thing. California Civil Code 1940.2 prohibits property owners from going outside the legal system in order to make a tenant move out from their home. Specifically, that law states a landlord cannot:
- Steal your belongings, or misrepresent their rights as a property owner to get services or valuables from you
- Use physical force, threats, or fear to get services or valuables from you
- Use or threaten to use physical force, threats, or menacing behavior in a way that makes you feel they might harm you
- Intentionally come into your home without giving required advance notice
- Threaten to share information about your immigration status, or the status of someone with whom you’re associated
- Give you notices to quit (3, 30, 60, or 90 day notices) or threaten eviction based on lies or false pretenses
If your landlord did any of these things, you have ways to get them to stop. Asserting your rights (preferably in writing) is the first step. If that doesn’t work, you may be able to sue them for up to $2000 for each time they harassed you and broke these restrictions. Some of these prohibited actions might also be crimes. Depending on your level of comfort and safety with police and the criminal legal system, you may consider informing law enforcement that your landlord is breaking the law.
Additionally, if you live in an unincorporated area of the County, you have more protections against harassment. Santa Cruz County Code 8.43.030 prohibits the owner of your home from doing any of the following things in bad faith:
- Ignore necessary repairs, or make inadequate or incomplete repairs
- Use renovations or construction work to harass you
- Try to evict you knowing that their reasons for eviction are false or do not actually give them the right to evict you
- Demand information about your citizenship or migration status, or any other legally protected group like gender, disability, race, or others.
- Demand your social security number, except when they need it to make sure you qualify to rent in their building
- Share information about you that violates your right to privacy, unless they’re legally required to
- Try to make you move out through fraud, misrepresentation, intimidation, or coercion, including threatening you with immigration authorities.
- Illegally discriminate against you
- Repeatedly disturb your peace and quiet in a way that is likely to make you move out
- Lie about tenant or landlord rights, or the meaning of an eviction notice.
- Require that you sign a rental contract not in your primary language if you first negotiated in that language or have an existing contract in that language.
- Interfere with your right to organize with other tenants or with groups advocating on behalf of tenants, or to exercise any of your rights under law.
Again, a good way to try and get your landlord to stop harassing you is to first assert your rights in writing. The threat of legal consequences can be enough to get them to change their behavior.
Sometimes a landlord will try to harass you or take other actions because you’ve used or asserted some of your legal rights. For example, maybe you asked your landlord to deal with a rat problem in your building and in response they threatened to kick you out. This kind of behavior is not allowed. Under California Civil Code 1942.5, a landlord is not supposed to raise your rent, decrease or limit access to your home or rented services, or evict you after you complained to them or a government agency about repairs you need made in your home. They also can’t retaliate against you once a government agency inspects your home or cites the landlord, if a lawsuit or arbitration starts over the repairs, or if a lawsuit or arbitration ends in your favor.
You’re not only protected just when you ask for repairs. Your landlord is not supposed to retaliate against you for using any right you have under the law, including working with your neighbors or a tenants’ organization to advocate for your rights. If the landlord does try to retaliate against you, you can try to protect yourself from eviction by showing a court that the eviction is an act of retaliation. Under Civil Code 1942.5, you can also sue your landlord for up to $2000 for each of those actions, as well as for any other damages you suffer because of their retaliation.
In addition to being protected when you ask for repairs or work with your neighbors to assert any rights, you are also supposed to be able to call for necessary emergency assistance without fear of punishment. Under Civil Code 1946.8, no landlord can threaten or enact fines, eviction, or reduction of services against a tenant who calls for police or other emergency assistance when that assistance “is necessary to prevent or address the perpetration, escalation, or exacerbation of the abuse, crime, or emergency.”
“Self Help” and “Constructive” evictions
When a landlord tries to evict someone with methods besides the required legal process, that is called a self-help eviction. Self-help evictions are not valid ways to end your tenancy and are specifically prohibited. CA Civil Code 789.3 says that a landlord cannot turn off your utilities to try and make you leave your home. The landlord also cannot change your locks, place a bootlock on your vehicle, remove outside doors or windows, or take away any of your belongings. If your landlord does any of these things you can sue them for $100 per day during which they continue, for example, to keep your gas turned off. You can also sue them for any losses you suffer because of their actions, such as costs for new keys or locks, or to replace stolen belongings.
Self-help evictions might be considered crimes. Depending on your level of comfort and safety with police and the criminal legal system, you may consider informing law enforcement that your landlord is breaking the law.
Even if your landlord is not doing any of the specific prohibited actions listed in Civil Code 789.3, you have protections against them if they try to get you to move out by intentionally disrupting your life. You might be able to recover monetary damages for moving costs if the landlord’s interference forces you to move out, any difference in monthly rent between your former and current homes, and for amounts of rent you paid during months when your landlord did not adequately protect your right to quiet enjoyment. These damages would be in addition to anything you could sue for under any of the rights you’ve already read about.
As you read above, your landlord is supposed to respect your peace and quiet in your home, not interfere when you exercise your legal rights, and only act through the narrow requirements of the legal system if they want to evict you. Although many of the protections described here punish a landlord after they’ve already acted wrongly (rather than preventing their actions in the first place) you can help prevent violations of your rights by proactively educating your landlord about their responsibilities. If you believe your rights are being violated, a good first step can be to write to your landlord, request that they stop whatever actions violate your rights, and state the relevant laws. The links below will take you to copies of form letters that may be helpful if you decide to assert your rights. If you are not comfortable with electronic versions of these letters, please contact us to request paper copies.