Landlord /Tenant Disputes
In general, when a landlord and tenant enter into a contract, oral or written, it is one which gives the tenant temporary possession and use of the landlord's property for a specified amount of money for a specific period of time, and, in turn, the tenant agrees to return the property to the landlord at a future time.
Generally, rents are paid in advance, and the landlord gives the tenant a receipt for the period covered.
If the tenant is contemplating moving, he usually gives the landlord advance notice of his intention based on the period in which the tenant pays rent - that is, if it is by the day, week, or month, notice with this amount of "lead time" is given.
Unlawful conduct by the landlord:
- Tenant Lockout (Penal Code section 418)
- "Every person using or procuring, encouraging or assisting another to use, any force or violence in entering upon or detaining any lands or other possessions of another, except in the cases and in the manner allowed by law, is guilty of a misdemeanor."
- Jamming or changing a tenant's door lock is considered a use of force and is therefore a misdemeanor.
Seizure of tenant's property
- Generally, a landlord may not take physical possession of his tenant's property unless he first obtains a court order allowing him to do so (Civil Code 1861a). The seizure of property is a misdemeanor under 418 PC, and the entry to seize the property may constitute a trespass.
- Even if the landlord has a lawful statutory lien on the tenant's property a court order is still needed. Furthermore, even with a court order, the lien may not be enforced against property necessary to the tenant's livelihood or any necessary household items (e.g., stove, refrigerator, tables, chairs, beds, washing machine, etc., Civil Code 1861a).
Writ of restitution/unlawful detainer action
- A landlord may take possession of tenant's property pursuant to a writ of restitution obtained in a successful unlawful detainer action (Civil Code 1174).
- A landlord has a right to take possession of personal property that remains on the premises after a tenancy has terminated and the tenant has abandoned the premises (Civil Code 1980).
Removal of doors and windows
Removal of doors or windows in an attempt to evict the tenant, or in any other way destroys the tenant's property, may be guilty of 594 P.C. Malicious Mischief. Even though the landlord may thereby be destroying his own property, the courts have held that since a tenant has a property interest in the premises, any such acts of destruction by the landlord constitute a malicious mischief against the tenant.
- A landlord may enter a tenant's premises without permission tenant if it is reasonable - for example, to repair a leaking water pipe, investigate smoke. In such instances, it is not considered a trespass. Or if the tenant has consented by lease to his landlord's entry at will, then such entry is not trespass.
- If the entry is without permission and for the purpose of harassment or snooping around, this would constitute a trespass under 602.5 PC.
Civil law in landlord/tenant disputes
- The best way to evict a tenant is by the landlord bringing an unlawful detainer action in court. If the tenant has violated any of the conditions of his lease or rental agreement, the landlord must give the tenant a three-day written notice to either correct the condition or move, prior to bringing an action in court to evict him.
- If the tenant is behind in his rent but is able to pay the full amount due within the three days, the landlord cannot evict him.
- Three-day notice forms are available at most large stationary stores. They must be filled out and served on the tenant in the legally correct manner.
- A landlord has a right to terminate a month-to-month tenancy for almost any reason, even if the tenant has not violated any provisions of the rental agreement. However, the landlord must first serve the tenant with a written notice instructing him to vacate in 30 days. If the tenant fails to leave in 30 days, the landlord must then bring an unlawful detainer action against the tenant.
- Landlords have a general legal obligation to keep the premises they rent in a condition fit for human occupancy, and to repair all defects that make the premises uninhabitable. This means that the landlord must provide an apartment that:
- Is weatherproof, waterproof, and rodent proof;
- Has a workable plumbing system;
- Has one working toilet, bathtub, and bathroom sink;
- Has one working kitchen sink;
- Has adequate heating facilities;
- Has safe electrical wiring;
- Has adequate garbage and trash storage and removal facilities.
What the Tenant Can Do
- If the landlord fails to meet the above obligations, inform him in writing of the problem.
- If the landlord fails or refuses to correct a problem, the tenant should consider reporting the violation to the housing authorities if it is a violation of housing code. Another option is the Bureau of Sanitation. If all else fails, call an attorney.
The Fullerton Police Department