Attorney General Bonta issues legal guidelines for law enforcement in response to illegal lockdowns and self-help evictions

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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today published legal advice on steps law enforcement officers should take to prevent and respond to unlawful lockouts and self-help evictions. The California Department of Justice Housing Strike Force received reports of landlords attempting to “evict” tenants by changing locks on rental properties, turning off water or electricity, or removing tenants’ personal property. Under California law, the only legal way to evict a tenant is to file a lawsuit in court. In today’s guidance, Attorney General Bonta emphasizes that when called upon to resolve a landlord-tenant dispute, law enforcement has a legal responsibility to intervene to prevent unlawful evictions. .

“Nearly 1.5 million renters in California are at risk of eviction, struggling to raise next month’s rent as the cost of living continues to rise,” said Attorney General Bonta. “While landlords may be frustrated, they have a responsibility to follow proper procedure if eviction is the necessary next step. Let’s be clear: this means filing a lawsuit in court. You cannot change locks, turn off power, or remove personal property in order to force a tenant out of their home. These so-called self-help evictions are illegal. Full stop. And you can be held civilly or criminally liable. Today’s guidelines highlight the important role of law enforcement in responding to reports of unlawful evictions and their responsibility to intervene to uphold the law and stop self-help evictions when they occur. see.

The Tenant Protection Act prohibits landlords from evicting most tenants without “just cause”. The law provides for two types of evictions: “fault” evictions and “no fault” evictions. Evictions for fault include, for example, non-payment of rent, criminal activity on the premises and refusal to allow legal entry. No-fault evictions include, for example, the owner moving in, a major renovation that requires permits and will take longer than 30 days, and the intention to demolish the unit. Landlords can only evict a tenant for one of the listed reasons here. The only legal way to evict a tenant is to file a lawsuit and wait for the court to order the sheriff or marshal to evict. Illegal lockouts and self-help evictions are serious offenses and can result in major legal consequences, including law enforcement action or private legal action by the tenant.

In today’s bulletin, Attorney General Bonta provides the following advice to law enforcement called upon to resolve a dispute between a landlord and tenant:

  • Law enforcement should never assist a landlord in evicting a tenant by force or threat.
  • Only the sheriff or marshal, or their deputies, can evict a tenant, and only by court order.
  • Other peace officers should not ask the tenant to leave their home.
  • Law enforcement should inform the landlord or others involved that it is a crime to force tenants out of a rental property and ask them to allow the tenant back into the house.
  • Law enforcement should advise the landlord to consult a lawyer if they have a problem with the tenant or to legally evict the tenant.
  • Law enforcement must file an incident report even if no arrests are made.

Attorney General Bonta is committed to advancing housing access, affordability, and equity in California, including protecting and promoting tenant rights. In November, Attorney General Bonta announced the creation of the Housing Strike Force and launched a Housing portal on the DOJ website with resources and information for California landlords and tenants. Shortly thereafter, Attorney General Bonta obtained a judgment of 3.5 million dollars against Wedgewood which resolved allegations that the company was unlawfully evicting tenants of properties purchased at foreclosure sales. Attorney General Bonta also sent warning letters to law firms across the state who represent landlords in eviction cases after being told that certain businesses and their customers may have broken the law.

The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send housing-related complaints or advice to [email protected] To find a free legal aid attorney in your area, visit https://lawhelpca.org.

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