California landlords must follow specific rules and procedures when evicting a tenant (California Tenants’ Rights for details). The state forbids landlords from taking the law into their own hands. Examples of illegal “self-help” evictions include changing the locks, taking the tenant’s belongings, removing the front door, or turning off the heat or electricity.
A landlord who illegally evicts a tenant in California is liable to the tenant for certain damages. The tenant may sue the landlord in small claims court and recover the following amounts:
- actual (out-of-pocket losses), such as motel bills if the tenant has to find a temporary place to live because the landlord cut off utility service, and
- punitive damages of up $100 per day of violation (but not less than $250 in punitive damages for each separate violation).
The tenant may also be awarded court costs and attorney fees.
If you decide to sue your landlord for an illegal eviction, check California law (you’ll find the California rules prohibiting self-help evictions at Cal. Civ. Code § 789.3). See the Laws and Legal Research section of this site for advice on finding and reading statutes.
It’s also a good idea to get advice from a local tenants’ rights group in California. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website includes information on tenant advocates for each state.
Finally, consider consulting an experienced tenants’ lawyer. See the article Tips on Hiring and Working With Lawyers on this site for advice.
For a wide range of other articles of interest to tenants, see the Renters’ and Tenants’ Rights section on this site.