In San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and various other Bay Area jurisdictions, tenants have strong rights under local rent ordinances. Oakland recently passed a strong anti-harassment law and many of these laws include triple damages as part of a lawsuit. A landlord does not have the right to ask a tenant to move out or to make life so uncomfortable that tenants decide to move out. A landlord also cannot lock a tenant out of their unit or intentionally shut off the utilities for an improper purpose (See California Civil Code Section 789.3). For lock-outs and utility shut-offs a tenant is entitled to $100 per day damages. Landlords also have to give you a notice to enter, at least 24 hours prior to entry (See FAQ on Landlord Entries).
A landlord cannot forcibly enter your unit and they cannot touch your personal property without your consent. They cannot remove your possessions. Only sheriffs deputies can do that and only after a legal eviction through the court system (see below). A landlord may not physically touch you or threaten to do you physical harm. For violations of Civil Code Section 1940.2, a tenant can get up to $2000 per act.
There is also a state law regarding retaliation, California Civil Code Section 1942.5, which makes it illegal for a landlord to attempt to evict a tenant for an assertion of a legal right such as a complaint to the rent board, to the city inspector’s office or to the landlord. Section 1942.5 is the retaliation defense, but it can also be used as the basis for a retaliation lawsuit against a landlord. For each retaliatory act by a landlord the tenant is potentially entitled to $2000 and attorneys fees.
Many landlords in rent controlled jurisdictions like San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland hate the fact that some tenants pay low rent compared to what they could get at market rate rent. Some greedy and unethical landlords initiate a harassment campaign to make life so miserable for their tenants that they sometimes feel like they have to move out. Tenants have many options to stop their landlords in these situations.
If any threats are made, even if they are veiled threats, make a police report. Keep a journal of each incident or interaction with your landlord. Each time there is an incident make a police report and send a letter to your landlord or the management company. Making a paper trail is really important, especially for future litigation should your landlord attempt to evict you or should you sue your landlord. If the harassment becomes so severe that it dramatically interferes with your quiet use and enjoyment of your home, then consider filing for a restraining order, which is an injunction to stop the landlords harassing conduct.
Greenstein and McDonald can assist you in addressing any form of harassment. We have sued many landlords for harassment, we have defended evictions based on false pretenses (we call it a “pretext eviction”) and we have filed restraining orders against landlords.