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Self-help evictions in California and Civil Code section 789.3

Self-help evictions in California are the topic of this blog post which discusses what actions are prohibited for landlords in California. California Civil Code section 789.3 is the statute that states in detail what a California landlord may not do. Sections 789.3 also allows a California residential tenant to be awarded their actual damages, statutory damages of $100.00 per day or part of a day that the landlord is in violation of that code section. Note that section 789.3 does not apply to commercial tenants.

The benefit of this law to California tenants is that their landlord cannot perform a “self-help” eviction without going through the legal process. For example they cannot lock a tenant out, remove their property, remove doors or windows, or turn off utilities to force a tenant to move out. A careful reading of section 789.3 is essential as there are many actions that are considered violations.

Repeated violations may be considered as separate causes of action with a separate award of statutory damages in certain circumstances. The prevailing party in any action under this section shall be awarded reasonable attorney fees. And the tenant can seek injunctive relief to prevent any continuing or further violations of section 789.3. That section also provides that the remedies provided are not exclusive and do not prevent a tenant from pursuing any other remedy to which they may be legally entitled.

Civil Code section 789.3 states that,

“(a) A landlord shall not with intent to terminate the occupancy under any lease or other tenancy or estate at will, however created, of property used by a tenant as his residence willfully cause, directly or indirectly, the interruption or termination of any utility service furnished the tenant, including, but not limited to, water, heat, light, electricity, gas, telephone, elevator, or refrigeration, whether or not the utility service is under the control of the landlord.

(b) In addition, a landlord shall not, with intent to terminate the occupancy under any lease or other tenancy or estate at will, however created, of property used by a tenant as his or her residence, willfully:

(1) Prevent the tenant from gaining reasonable access to the property by changing the locks or using a bootlock or by any other similar method or device;

(2) Remove outside doors or windows; or

(3) Remove from the premises the tenant’s personal property, the furnishings, or any other items without the prior written consent of the tenant, except when done pursuant to the procedure set forth in Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 1980) of Title 5 of Part 4 of Division 3.
Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to prevent the lawful eviction of a tenant by appropriate legal authorities, nor shall anything in this subdivision apply to occupancies defined by subdivision (b) of Section 1940.

(c) Any landlord who violates this section shall be liable to the tenant in a civil action for all of the following:

(1) Actual damages of the tenant.

(2) An amount not to exceed one hundred dollars ($100) for each day or part thereof the landlord remains in violation of this section. In determining the amount of such award, the court shall consider proof of such matters as justice may require; however, in no event shall less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) be awarded for each separate cause of action. Subsequent or repeated violations, which are not committed contemporaneously with the initial violation, shall be treated as separate causes of action and shall be subject to a separate award of damages.

(d) In any action under subdivision (c) the court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. In any such action the tenant may seek appropriate injunctive relief to prevent continuing or further violation of the provisions of this section during the pendency of the action. The remedy provided by this section is not exclusive and shall not preclude the tenant from pursuing any other remedy which the tenant may have under any other provision of law.”

Civil Code section 789.3 provides some specific and powerful protections to a tenant in California.

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The author of this blog post, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995.

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Copyright 2013 Stan Burman. All rights reserved.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that the author of this blog post, Stan Burman is NOT an attorney and as such is unable to provide any specific legal advice. The author is NOT engaged in providing any legal, financial, or other professional services, and any information contained in this blog post is NOT intended to constitute legal advice.

These materials and information contained in this blog post have been prepared by Stan Burman for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. Transmission of the information contained in this blog post is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, any business relationship between the author and any readers. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

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