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Unlawful Eviction California

Understanding Unlawful Eviction in California: What Tenants Need to Know

Are you a tenant facing eviction in California? Learn the ins and outs of Unlawful Eviction in California 2023 and how you can protect your rights as a tenant.

Fighting Unlawful Eviction in California: Your Rights as a Tenant

Unlawful eviction, also known as illegal eviction or wrongful eviction, is a serious issue for renters in California. As a tenant, it’s important to understand your rights and options if you face an unlawful eviction.

Here’s why this article is worth reading:

  • Learn what constitutes an unlawful eviction in California
  • Find out what legal recourse and compensation tenants may be entitled to
  • Get advice on how to fight an unlawful eviction notice or lawsuit
  • Discover key resources for tenants facing wrongful eviction

What is Considered an Unlawful Eviction in California?

Unlawful eviction occurs when a landlord tries to force a tenant out in violation of California eviction laws. Some examples include:

Illegal Lockout

If a landlord changes the locks or otherwise blocks a tenant from accessing their rental unit without following proper eviction procedures, this is considered an illegal lockout and unlawful eviction.

Shutting Off Utilities

A landlord cannot attempt to force a tenant out by shutting off utilities like electricity, gas, or water service. This constructive eviction violates California law.

Seizing Tenant Property

A landlord illegally confiscating or denying a tenant access to their belongings is a form of unlawful eviction. The tenant’s property cannot be taken except through a court order.

Violating Lease Terms

If a landlord tries to evict a tenant despite the lease term not having expired, it may be considered wrongful eviction unless legally allowed eviction reasons apply.


Evicting or harassing a tenant based on their membership in a protected class like race, gender, or familial status is unlawful discrimination and eviction.


If a landlord serves an eviction notice or files an eviction lawsuit in retaliation after the tenant exercised a legal right, such as requesting repairs, this can constitute unlawful retaliation eviction.


What Legal Recourse Do Tenants Have Against Unlawful Eviction?

Tenants faced with unlawful eviction have legal rights and options under California law, including:

Fighting the Eviction in Court

If served with an unlawful detainer lawsuit, the tenant can fight the eviction in court. There are various defenses, such as the eviction being discriminatory or retaliatory in nature.

Filing a Counterclaim

Along with fighting the eviction, the tenant can potentially file a counterclaim against the landlord for damages related to the wrongful eviction.

Calling the Police

If the situation involves an illegal lockout, confiscation of property, or other issues, the tenant can call the police for assistance and to make a report. This can help establish evidence.

Seeking Injunctive Relief

A tenant can seek a court order for injunctive relief if the landlord’s actions would cause irreparable harm, such as shutting off essential utilities.

Reporting to Government Authorities

In some cases, an unlawful eviction may violate local ordinances or housing laws. Tenants can file complaints with city housing departments or local rent boards.

Suing for Damages

Beyond just fighting the eviction itself, tenants can potentially sue the landlord for monetary damages related to the illegal eviction.


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What Damages Can a Tenant Recover for an Unlawful Eviction California?

If a landlord is found to have carried out an unlawful eviction, the tenant may be able to recover:

  • Lost rent and moving expenses
  • Hotel costs if temporarily displaced
  • Damage to tenant’s property
  • Emotional distress damages
  • Punitive damages in extreme cases
  • Attorney’s fees

The exact unlawful eviction damages the tenant can claim depend on the circumstances of the case. It’s advisable to consult a tenant lawyer.

How Often Do Tenants Win Unlawful Eviction Cases in Court?

It varies case-by-case, but tenants stand a good chance with the right evidence and effective legal advocacy. Tenants are increasingly winning unlawful detainer cases in places with strong renter protections, like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Much depends on the specific defenses the tenant raises and their ability to prove the eviction was clearly illegal or retaliatory in nature, rather than simply over non-payment of rent. Experienced tenant lawyers make a big difference.

What is the Process for Fighting an Unlawful Eviction Notice?

If you receive an eviction notice that appears unlawful, key steps include:

Review the Notice Carefully

Make sure it follows the exact legal requirements for content and delivery method. Check if the stated reason is valid or is a pretext for retaliation.

Send Written Response

Draft a formal written response disputing the notice, keeping a copy. References to applicable law and defenses Send by certified mail.

Seek Legal Help

Consult a landlord-tenant attorney. They can advise if the notice is defective or unlawful. Have them review your response.

Attempt Negotiation

See if the issue might be resolved by discussing it directly with your landlord, if possible. Get any agreements in writing.

Do Not Move Out

If you receive an unlawful notice, do not leave the unit unless a court orders you to after due process. This could harm your case.

Prepare Your Defense

Begin gathering evidence and planning your legal defense in case the landlord does file an eviction lawsuit.

How Can a Tenant Fight an Unlawful Eviction Lawsuit?

If an unlawful detainer lawsuit is filed, key strategies to fight eviction include:

File an Answer

Draft a written answer to the complaint, denying allegations and raising defenses. Get help from a lawyer.

Assert Legal Defenses

Utilize defenses like landlord retaliation, discrimination, lease violations, etc. Cite relevant law and precedent cases.

Counter-sue if Applicable

Depending on the circumstances, include counterclaims for damages caused by the wrongful eviction.

Request a Jury Trial

This allows a jury to hear arguments instead of only a judge. Tenants often get better results from jury trials.

Gather Evidence

Collect documentation, recordings, inspection reports, and witness statements to support your defenses.

Utilize Legal Resources

Tenant advocacy organizations may offer assistance in fighting wrongful eviction lawsuits. Pro bono help may be available.

What are some Tenant Defenses to Unlawful Eviction?

Some specific legal defenses tenants can raise against wrongful eviction include:

Landlord Retaliation

If the eviction is in retaliation for exercising tenant rights like requesting repairs, this is unlawful.

Housing Discrimination

It is illegal to evict based on protected characteristics like race, gender, disability, having children, etc.

Lease Terms Violation

Trying to evict before the lease term expires or without proper notice required in the lease is unlawful.

Just Cause Eviction

In cities with just cause eviction rules, the landlord must prove a valid allowed reason, not just no-fault.

COVID-19 Protections

Many cities enacted COVID emergency rules prohibiting evictions except in limited cases. Expired rent debts cannot be a cause.

Failure to Maintain Habitability

If eviction is over unpaid rent but the unit had serious habitability defects, the tenant may have legal remedies.

Violation of Rent Control Ordinance

Evicting a tenant to raise the rent higher than allowed under a rent control law would be illegal.

Unlawful Eviction California 2023

What are Typical Unlawful Eviction California 2023 Damages a Tenant Can Recover?

If a tenant prevails in an unlawful eviction lawsuit, they may recover:

Economic Damages

Out-of-pocket costs related to the eviction, such as temporary housing, moving/storage fees, lost personal property, lost wages, rental differentials.

Non-Economic Damages

Compensation for emotional distress, anxiety, embarrassment, disruption of school/work caused by the eviction.

Punitive Damages

In egregious cases where the landlord acted intentionally or maliciously, punitive damages may be awarded as further punishment.

Attorney’s Fees

Tenant’s reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs can typically be claimed if they prevail.

The exact unlawful eviction damages depend on the case specifics. An experienced attorney can pursue maximum lawful compensation.

What is the Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Eviction Claims in California?

California law imposes deadlines for filing wrongful eviction and other landlord-tenant claims:

  • 2 years: claims for property damage
  • 3 years: claims of fraud or bad faith
  • 4 years: claims for economic or non-economic damages

So tenant claims directly related to an unlawful eviction must generally be filed within 4 years from when the wrongful eviction occurred. Other claims follow the shorter deadlines above.

These statutes of limitation can be complex in eviction cases involving counterclaims. Consult an attorney to ensure claims are filed on time.

Where Can Tenants Get Free or Low-Cost Legal Help for Unlawful Eviction?

Affordable legal resources for fighting unlawful eviction include:

Local Tenant Unions

Many cities have active tenant unions and advocacy groups offering education, counseling, and legal help.

Legal Aid Organizations

Various legal aid groups provide free or sliding-scale legal help for lower-income tenants facing eviction.

Law School Clinics

Local law schools often operate landlord-tenant and housing law clinics to help tenants with legal advocacy.

Court Self-Help Centers

California courthouses have self-help centers to help unrepresented tenants respond to eviction lawsuits.

Tenant-Friendly Attorneys

Some private attorneys offer low-bono or contingency-based representation for tenants defending evictions.

Check out resources in your local area to get connected with affordable legal help. The Eviction Defense Network also has listings statewide.

What Legal Protections Exist Against Landlord Harassment and Intimidation?

California tenants have protections against landlord harassment tactics:

Local Just Cause Eviction Laws

Many cities prohibit evicting tenants except for specified “just causes” – harassment is not a lawful cause.

California Tenant Anti-Harassment Laws

State laws protect tenants against harassment related to immigration status, source of income, sexual orientation, and other reasons.

Federal and State Fair Housing Laws

Harassing tenants based on race, disability, having children, or other protected classes violates fair housing laws.

Tort of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

If harassment is extreme and outrageous enough to cause severe emotional distress, tenants may sue the landlord for IIED tort damages.

Restraining Orders

For serious landlord harassment, intimidation, or violence, tenants can seek civil restraining orders from the court.

Police and Government Reports

Evidence of harassment or illegal conduct can be reported to the police and agencies like HUD and DFEH.

If you experience landlord harassment related to an eviction, take steps to document the conduct and know your options.

Unlawful Eviction California

What Remedies Are There Against Landlord Illegal Lockouts?

If a landlord engages in unlawful lockout tactics, potential remedies for tenants include:

Calling the Police

An illegal lockout may warrant calling the police to make a report and potentially get back in the unit. Landlords could face criminal charges for changing locks without a proper court order.

Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)

A tenant can request an emergency TRO forcing the landlord to provide access to the unit and belongings.

Statutory Damages

California law allows recovery of statutory damages up to $100 per day for an unlawful lockout.

Actual Damages

Tenants can claim compensation for any economic and non-economic losses caused by the illegal lockout, such as hotel stays.

Punitive Damages

Egregious lockout cases may warrant punitive damages imposed against the landlord as punishment.

Illegal lockouts violate due process rights. With prompt legal action, tenants can defend their lawful occupancy rights.

How Can Tenants Report Unlawful Evictions to Government Authorities?

If faced with a wrongful eviction, tenants can file complaints with agencies like:

  • Local city housing/tenant affairs office: Report landlords violating just cause or other local eviction rules.
  • HUD – For discrimination/harassment complaints. HUD investigates fair housing violations.
  • DFEH – California agency that investigates claims of housing discrimination and harassment.
  • Rent control boards: In cities with rent control, the board administers rules prohibiting retaliatory eviction.
  • City attorney/district attorney – Report landlords with repeat unlawful eviction activities for potential prosecution.
  • County recorder – If landlord submits fraudulent eviction documents to retake a unit, the recorder’s office should be alerted.

Reporting unlawful evictions provides important documentation and helps hold landlords accountable for violating housing laws.

What Legal Protections Exist Against Landlord Retaliation?

California has strong laws prohibiting landlord retaliation, such as:

Implicit State Law Protection

Though no explicit statute, California courts have ruled tenants are implicitly protected from eviction based on exercising legal tenant rights. Landlords cannot retaliate just because a tenant files repair requests, for example.

Local Just Cause Ordinances

Many cities require landlords to cite an approved “just cause” to evict. Retaliation is not a lawful eviction cause.

Specific Local Retaliation Ordinances

Some cities have enacted dedicated anti-retaliation ordinances prohibiting evictions motivated by tenant complaints or disputes with the landlord.

Rent Withholding as Defense

State law allows tenants to raise habitability issues as a defense against non-payment eviction. Withholding rent based on uninhabitable conditions is lawful.

Experienced tenant attorneys can argue the various protections against retaliatory evictions when representing clients.

What Should Tenants Do if the Landlord Changing the Locks or Removing Belongings?

Potential steps if a landlord unlawfully keeps you from your rental unit or possessions:

  • Call the police – Request police response to get back into the unit and secure your property.
  • Take photographs – Document the removal of possessions or lock change. Take date-stamped pictures.
  • Send demand letter – Formally demand access to the unit and property. Send via certified mail.
  • File court papers – Seek a temporary restraining order forcing the landlord to stop interference with your occupancy.
  • Contact housing officials – Report lockout or seizure of property to local housing department.
  • Consult an attorney – Discuss claims for damages related to the unlawful eviction tactics.
  • Contact tenant organizations. Local groups can advise and assist with an illegal lockout or property seizure situation.

Prompt action is key to protecting your lawful occupancy rights if a landlord oversteps legal boundaries.

What Legal Recourse is There Against Landlords Making False Police Reports?

It is illegal for a landlord to make false police reports about a tenant in order to harass them or force an eviction. Potential legal recourse includes:

Report the Landlord

File a complaint with local housing officials about the landlord misusing police reports to illegally evict.

Seek Damages

If false police reports lead to tangible harm like wrongful arrest, sue the landlord for causes like defamation, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Get a Restraining Order

If ongoing harassment via police reports, seek a civil restraining order from local court against the landlord. This can include a buffer zone around the rental unit.

Request Police Record Correction

Formally request the police department correct records to reflect accusations that were unfounded and false.

Press Criminal Charges

In extreme cases, tenants could potentially pursue criminal libel charges against seriously abusive false police reports. Consult a local prosecutor.

Landlords cannot abuse police resources to intimidate and harass tenants. With evidence, tenants have legal options to protect their rights.

What are Tenant Options if the Landlord Changes the Locks During COVID-19?

If a landlord illegally locks out a tenant during COVID-19, the tenant can:

  • Call the police – Request police response to reopen the unit in line with eviction moratoriums.
  • Seek emergency court order – File for a temporary restraining order to regain entry to the unit.
  • Contact local housing authority – Report the lockout as violation of COVID-19 eviction prohibitions.
  • Consult an attorney – Discuss claims like statutory damages for illegal lockout.
  • Connect with tenant resources – Organizations can help advise and put public pressure to stop the lockout.
  • Call city representatives – Elected leaders can intervene with landlords flouting eviction bans.
  • Negotiate with landlord – Alongside legal action, try to directly negotiate restored access if possible.
  • Document everything – Take photos, keep detailed records, and collect evidence in case of future disputes or lawsuits.

Illegal lockouts amid COVID are especially egregious. Tenants have legal options to defend their lawful occupancy rights.

What Steps Should Tenants Take to Prepare for an Unlawful Eviction Fight?

Key preparation strategies include:

  • Carefully review notices – Scrutinize any notice from the landlord for defects that may make it invalid.
  • Seek legal help promptly – Consult housing lawyers to advise if the notice is lawful and build your case.
  • Gather evidence – Collect documents, recordings, and any proof related to your tenant rights and disputed eviction.
  • Organize documentation – Keep important records like the lease, notices, letters, and photographs together and accessible.
  • Photograph rental conditions – Take extensive photos documenting cleanliness, furnishings, and any needed repairs.
  • Notify housing officials – Report potential unlawful eviction to local housing department and rent board if applicable.
  • Record interactions – If permitted in your state, consider audio recording any conversations with the landlord.
  • Make alternative housing plans – Line up a backup living situation in case you must quickly vacate while fighting the eviction in court.

Advance evidence gathering and planning makes responding to an illegal eviction notice faster and more effective


What is considered an illegal eviction in California?

Unlawful evictions, also called illegal evictions, occur in California when a landlord tries to remove or lock out a tenant without following proper legal procedures. Some examples of illegal eviction tactics include:

  • Changing locks to prevent tenant access
  • Removing a tenant’s belongings from the unit
  • Cutting off utilities like electricity or water
  • Using force, harassment, or intimidation to make the tenant leave
  • Failing to provide proper notice before eviction

Key points:

  • Illegal evictions violate California laws protecting tenants
  • Lockouts, utility shutoffs, and seizures of property are unlawful
  • Harassment through force or intimidation is prohibited
  • Landlords must follow proper notice and process requirements

What should you do if you are evicted illegally in California?

If you face an unlawful eviction in California, important steps include:

  • Call the police if you are locked out or have property removed
  • Consult a tenant lawyer to understand your rights
  • Send the landlord formal written notice disputing the eviction
  • File an answer contesting any eviction lawsuit
  • Report the illegal eviction to local housing officials
  • Gather evidence, like photographs, to document the situation
  • Consider counterclaims against the landlord for damages

Key points:

  • Police can provide urgent response for lockouts or property issues
  • An attorney can advise if eviction is illegal and help fight back
  • Notifying housing authorities creates a record of the violation
  • Evidence and legal action can help stop the unlawful eviction

Can I sue my landlord for renting an illegal apartment in California?

In some cases, tenants may be able to sue landlords over illegal rental units.

  • Must be able to show unit violates local housing codes
  • Examples include lack of heating, unsafe conditions, etc.
  • Damages may include reduced rent value and emotional distress
  • The landlord may face additional code enforcement fines and penalties

Key points:

  • Tenants have rights to a habitable, code-compliant rental
  • Lawsuits are possible in cases where landlords knowingly rent illegal units
  • Damages can include rent refunds and other costs incurred
  • Housing code fines may apply against landlord on top of lawsuit

How do I respond to an unlawful detainer in California?

If you are served an unlawful detainer eviction lawsuit in California, key response steps include:

  • Consult an attorney to understand your rights and defenses
  • Draft and file a written Answer with the court by the deadline
  • Assert legal defenses like retaliation, discrimination, etc.
  • Request a jury trial to have your case heard by jurors
  • Gather evidence like photos, documents, and records
  • Consider counterclaims against the landlord for damages

Key points:

  • An attorney can provide vital help responding to an eviction lawsuit
  • File a written Answer with the court contesting the eviction
  • Present evidence and assert legal defenses against the eviction
  • Counterclaims possible for landlord’s wrongful conduct

What is a nuisance eviction in California?

Nuisance evictions in California allow landlords to remove tenants engaging in certain illegal or hazardous activities, including:

  • Drug or gang activity on the property
  • Violence or threats against other residents
  • Damaging the unit or common areas
  • Disturbing other tenants’ peaceful enjoyment

Key points:

  • Nuisance evictions target truly problematic tenant behaviors
  • Drug activity, violence, and vandalism could qualify as nuisance
  • Still requires proper notice and court process to evict
  • Tenants can contest allegations at trial if untrue

Can a tenant win an unlawful detainer California?

Yes, tenants can successfully fight and win unlawful detainer eviction cases in California by:

  • Raising defenses like landlord retaliation or discrimination
  • Providing evidence invalidating the landlord’s allegations
  • Pointing out procedural defects in the landlord’s notice or filing
  • Securing legal aid to effectively argue the tenant’s side
  • Requesting a jury trial instead of bench trial
  • Demonstrating violations of rent control or eviction moratoriums

Key points:

  • Many defenses and strategies can help tenants win at trial
  • Procedural errors by the landlord can undermine the eviction
  • Legal aid lawyers improve tenants’ chances of success
  • Jury trials and rent control laws favor tenants in many cases