Landlord Harassment

Landlord Harassment

It Is Illegal For Landlords To Harass Their Tenants

Landlord harassment is illegal. California state law and local city ordinances protect tenants against harassment. Whether physical or verbal, all landlord harassment has the same goal—to force the tenant to move out. Harassment is when a landlord uses persistent aggressive methods, fraud, coercion, or intimidation to get a tenant to do what the landlord wants. Harassment is meant to disrupt the tenant’s legal right to quiet enjoyment of their unit in order to force the tenant to move or to force the tenant to refrain from pursuing any potential legal rights they may have against the landlord.



Why Would A Landlord Harass A Tenant?

In rent-controlled jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, Berkeley, Richmond, Mountain View, Alameda, and Oakland, landlords are highly motived to get long-term tenants to move out in order to raise the rent to market rate. Many landlords rely on the assumption that tenants do not know their legal right. Harassment of the tenant is pursued in order to avoid costly legal fees and the hassle of a legal eviction and, most importantly, the landlord typically has no actual cause to evict the tenant other than their bad faith motivation to substantially raise the rent.



How Can A Tenant Prove Landlord Harassment?

Landlord harassment claims can sometimes be difficult to prove. These cases often come down to a tenant’s ability to prove the harassment. It is important for tenants to be extremely diligent in notating each harassing event. Tenants should maintain a log with dates and times. If possible, they should also get statements from friends and neighbors, and take pictures and recordings. If a tenant feels that they are in physical danger, they should call the police and can also pursue a restraining order against their landlord.



What Are The Harassment Laws In The State Of California?

It is illegal for a landlord to induce a tenant to leave a unit by the use of “force, willful threats, or menacing conduct”; by threatening to disclose the citizenship status of the tenant or the tenant’s guests; by entering the tenant’s unit in substantial violation of the law; and to take, deprive, or remove the tenant’s property from the unit without consent. Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.2. Landlords who are found to have harassed their tenants are liable for punitive damages of up to $2,000.00 for each violation of the law. Id. Tenants do not have to be actually evicted or constructively evicted to be awarded damages for harassment. Id. Additionally, the state’s anti-retaliation statute prevents a landlord from harassing a tenant after the tenant has asserted rights under law. Cal. Civ. Code § 1942.5. Landlords who violate this prohibition are liable for actual damages, attorney’s fees, and punitive damages of up to $2,000 per retaliatory act. Id.



What Are The Harassment Laws In The City Of San Francisco?

The San Francisco Rent Ordinance protects tenants from landlord harassment. The ordinance is more expansive than the California harassment statute, and it includes a catch-all provision to cover anything that is not explicitly enumerated. S.F. Cal., Rent Ordinance § 37.10B. In San Francisco, landlords are expressly prohibited from doing the following:

  • Interrupt, terminate, or fail to provide housing services required by contract or by state, county or local housing, health or safety laws;
  • Fail to perform repairs and maintenance required by contract or by state, county or local housing, health or safety laws;
  • Fail to exercise due diligence in completing repairs and maintenance once undertaken or fail to follow appropriate industry repair, containment or remediation protocols designed to minimize exposure to noise, dust, lead, paint, mold, asbestos, or other building materials with potentially harmful health impacts;
  •  Abuse the landlord’s right of access into a rental housing unit as that right is provided by law;
  •  Influence or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate a rental housing unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion;
  •  Attempt to coerce the tenant to vacate with offer(s) of payments to vacate that are accompanied with threats or intimidation;
  •  Threaten the tenant, by word or gesture, with physical harm;
  • Substantially and directly interfere with a tenant’s right to quiet use and enjoyment of a rental housing unit as that right is defined by California law;
  •  Violate any law that prohibits discrimination based on actual or perceived race, gender, sexual preference, sexual orientation, ethnic background, nationality, place of birth, immigration or citizenship status, religion, age, parenthood, marriage, pregnancy, disability, AIDS or occupancy by a minor child;
  •  Interfere with a tenant’s right to quiet use and enjoyment of a rental housing unit as that right is defined by California law;
  •  Refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of a tenant’s lawful rent payment;
  •  Refuse to cash a rent check for over 30 days;
  •  Interfere with a tenant’s right to privacy;
  •  Request information that violates a tenant’s right to privacy, including but not limited to residence or citizenship status or social security number;
  •  Other repeated acts or omissions of such significance as to substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace or quiet of any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of such dwelling unit and that cause, are likely to cause, or are intended to cause any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of a dwelling unit to vacate such dwelling unit or to surrender or waive any rights in relation to such occupancy. Id.

Tenants who are harassed by their landlord can file a civil lawsuit against their landlord for damages and for an injunction to stop the behavior. Additionally, a landlord convicted for violation of this section of the Rent Ordinance will be subject to criminal penalties. Id. Where the tenant can prove harassment, the landlord will be assessed a statutory penalty of $1,000.00 for each instance of harassment. Id. The tenant can also seek an award of three times (treble damages) their emotional distress and out-of-pocket damages. Id. And, punitive damages and attorney fees are provided for under the ordinance. Id.



What are the harassment laws in the County of Los Angeles?

The County of Los Angeles recently passed ant-harassment ordinance that applies to the unincorporated areas of county. Landlords are prohibited from retaliating against a tenant who is not in default of their rent and who has exercised their rights under the ordinance.  L.A. County, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.52.130. Landlords may not terminate a tenancy, refuse to renew a tenancy, or cause a tenant to involuntarily move out in response to a tenant exercising their rights. Failure by the landlord to comply with the ordinance can be asserted by a tenant as an affirmative defense to any action brought against them by the landlord. In addition, landlords and their contractors, subcontractors, employees, and any person acting as an agent of the landlord are prohibited from doing the following:

  • Interrupt, terminate, or fail to provide, or threaten to interrupt, terminate, or provide any housing service required by the lease agreement or the law.

Act in bad faith by any of the following actions:

  • Fail to perform repairs and maintenance.
  • Fail to exercise due diligence in completing repairs and maintenance they had undertaken.
  • Fail to follow industry repair, containment, or remediation protocols to lessen noise, dust, lead, paint, mold, asbestos, or other harmful building materials exposure.
  • Renovate or perform construction for the purpose of harassing a tenant.
  • Refuse to acknowledge receipt of lawful payment of rent.
  • Refuse to cash or process a rent payment for over 30 days.
  • Fail to maintain a current address for delivery of rent payments.
  • Violate a tenant’s right to privacy by requesting citizen ship status, protected class status, or social security number, unless the social security number is needed for purposes of tenancy qualification.
  • Release the above information to others, unless required by law.
  • Request an unreasonable amount of information from a tenant that has made a request for a reasonable accommodation.
  • Abuse the right to enter, including entries unrelated to repairs/maintenance, excessive entries, entries targeting a certain tenant to collect information about them, entries demanding a time outside of normal business hours, entries contrary to a tenant’s request to change the date and time of the entry, and photographing or recording the unit beyond the scope of the entry’s purpose.
  • Influence or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate through fraud, misrepresentation, intimidation, or coercion.
  • Threaten a tenant with words (orally or in writing) or physical harm.
  • Discriminate against a tenant based on race, gender, sexual preference, sexual orientation, ethnic background, nationality, religion, age, parenthood, marriage, pregnancy, disability, HIV, AIDS, occupancy by a minor child, or source of income.
  • Terminate, serve a notice to quit, or bring an action to recover possession of a unit based on information that the landlord has no reasonable cause to believe is true.
  • Remove a tenant’s personal property from the unit without the tenant’s prior written consent.
  • Provide false information to the tenant about any federal, state, county, or local tenant protections. False information includes:
    • Demanding a tenant sign a lease agreement not in the tenant’s primary language.
    • Conducting rental agreement negotiations not in the tenant’s primary language.
    • Providing a rental agreement that is not in the tenant’s primary language.
    • Awareness by the landlord that the lease is not in the tenant’s primary language
  • Entering into a rent repayment plan if the landlord tells the tenant that they have to enter into such an agreement in order to qualify for tenant protections.
  • Offer payments to tenant to vacate more than once in six months after the tenant notified the landlord in writing they do not want to receive offers.
  • Communicate in a language that is not the tenant’s primary language to intimidate, confuse, deceive, or annoy the tenant.
  • Interfere with the tenant’s quiet enjoyment.
  • Repeatedly and substantially interfere with any occupant’s quiet enjoyment to cause, or intend to cause, the occupant to vacate the unit or to waive their rights.
  • Remove a housing service, such as a parking space, to force a tenant to vacate.
  • Interfere with the right of tenants to organize.  L.A. County, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.52.130.

Any tenant who has been retaliated against or harassed by their landlord, or any person or entity acting on behalf of the tenant’s interest, including the County, may bring a lawsuit against the landlord for violations of the ordinance.  L.A. County, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.52.170.  Tenants can sue their landlord for injunctive, declaratory and other equitable relief, restitution, and reasonable attorney fees and costs.  Id.  The court may award reasonable attorney fees and costs to a landlord who prevails in any action brought against them if the court determines that the tenant's action was frivolous. In addition, tenants may seek a civil penalty of between $2,000 and $5,000 per violation. L.A. County, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.52.130.  If the tenant is 62 years old or older or is disabled, the court may award an additional $5,000 per violation. Each violation of the ordinance, and each day such violation is committed, permitted, or continued, is a separate offense.  L.A. County, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.52.170.



What Are The Harassment Laws In The City Of Oakland?

The Oakland Rent Ordinance’s prohibition against landlord harassment is similar to San Francisco’s ordinance. Oakland, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.22.600. Under Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO), landlords shall not do the following:

  • Interrupt, terminate, or fail to provide housing services required by contract or by State, County or municipal housing, health or safety laws, or threaten to do so;
  • Fail to perform repairs and maintenance required by contract or by State, County or municipal housing, health or safety laws, or threaten to do so;
  • Fail to exercise due diligence in completing repairs and maintenance once undertaken or fail to follow appropriate industry repair, containment or remediation protocols designed to minimize exposure to noise, dust, lead paint, mold, asbestos, or other building materials with potentially harmful health impacts;
  • Abuse the owner’s right of access into a rental housing unit as that right is provided by law;
  • Remove from the rental unit personal property, furnishings, or any other items without the prior written consent of the tenant;
  • Influence or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate a rental unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion, which shall include threatening to report a tenant to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, though that prohibition shall not be construed as preventing communication with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement regarding an alleged violation;
  • Offer payments to a tenant to vacate more than once in six (6) months, after the Tenant has notified the owner in writing the tenant does not desire to receive further offers of payments to vacate;
  • Attempt to coerce a tenant to vacate with offer(s) of payments to vacate that are accompanied with threats or intimidation. This shall not include settlement offers made in good faith and not accompanied with threats or intimidation in pending eviction actions;
  • Threaten the tenant, by word or gesture, with physical harm;
  • Refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of a tenant’s lawful rent payment, except as such refusal may be permitted by state law after a notice to quit has been served on the Tenant and the time period for performance pursuant to the notice has expired;
  • Refuse to cash a rent check for over thirty (30) days unless a written receipt for payment has been provided to the tenant;
  • Interfere with a tenant’s right to privacy;
  • Request information that violates a tenant’s right to privacy, including but not limited to residence or citizenship status or social security number, except as required by law or, in the case of a social security number, for the purpose of obtaining information for the qualifications for a tenancy, or not release such information except as required or authorized by law;
  • Other repeated acts or omissions of such significance as to substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace or quiet of any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of such dwelling unit and that cause, are likely to cause, or are intended to cause any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of a dwelling unit to vacate such dwelling unit or to surrender or waive any rights in relation to such occupancy;
  • Removing a housing service for the purpose of causing the tenant to vacate the Rental Unit. For example, taking away a parking space knowing that a Tenant cannot find alternative parking and must move. Oakland, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.22.640.

Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance also prohibits retaliation by the landlord against the tenant for exercising their rights under the law and allows tenants to bring retaliation claims against the landlord in civil court. Id.   It is important to note that under the Oakland TPO, tenants must first comply with a notice requirement before they can pursue a civil remedy in court against their landlord if the tenant alleges a violation of 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12, or 13 listed above. Oakland, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.22.650. Tenants alleging a violation of those subsections must notify the property owner or their agent of the problem prior to filing a lawsuit. Id. And, in the case of 1, 2, 3, 11, or 12 listed above, the tenant must give fifteen (15) days from the notification for the owner to correct the issue. Id.   Similar to San Francisco’s ordinance, Oakland provides for substantial money damages against landlords found liable for harassment. Oakland, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.22.670. Attorney fees and costs, punitive damages, treble damages, and injunctive relief are all available under the ordinance. Id.



What Are The Harassment Laws In The City Of Berkeley?

The City of Berkeley also has a Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) that protects tenants from landlord harassment and retaliation. Berkeley, Cal., Mun. Code § 13.79.060. The ordinance prohibits the landlord from doing any of the following in bad faith:

  • Influence, or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate a Rental Unit through fraud or intimidation, or through unauthorized physical acts;
  • Threaten by use of fraud, intimidation, or coercion to terminate a tenancy, to recover possession of a rental Unit, or to evict a tenant from a rental unit. Such threats shall include threatening to report any tenant, occupant, or guest of any tenant or occupant, to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement;
  • Reduce, interrupt, or withhold any services or amenities provided to the tenant pursuant to the rental agreement, custom, or law. Such services include, but are not limited to, provision of the quiet use and enjoyment of the rental unit;
  • Interfere with any tenant’s rights of privacy. Unlawful interference with a tenant’s right to privacy shall include, but is not limited to, requesting information regarding citizenship or residency status or social security number of any tenant or member of the tenant’s family or household, occupant, or guest of any tenant, except for the purpose of obtaining information for the qualifications for a tenancy prior to the inception of a tenancy. Unlawful interference with the right to privacy also includes releasing any confidential information regarding any person described in this subdivision, except as required by law;
  • Abuse the limited right of access into a rental unit as established and limited by Civil Code 1954;
  • Abuse, exploit, discriminate, or take advantage of, any actual or perceived disability, trait or characteristic of any tenant, including, but not limited to, the Tenant’s participation in any section 8, housing choice voucher, or other subsidized housing program;
  • Fail to perform any repairs in a timely and professional manner that minimizes inconvenience to the tenant; or fail to exercise due diligence in completing repairs and maintenance once undertaken; or fail to follow appropriate industry standards to or protocols designed to minimize exposure to noise, dust, lead paint, asbestos, other building materials with potentially harmful health impacts;
  • Threaten to not perform repairs and maintenance required by contract, custom, or law, or threaten to do so;
  • Fail to accept or acknowledge receipt of a tenant’s rent, or to promptly deposit a tenant’s rent payment, or to promptly provide a receipt to a tenant upon request, except as such refusal may be permitted by state law after a notice to quit has been served and the time period for performance pursuant to the notice has expired;
  • Offer payments to a tenant to vacate without providing written notice to the tenant of his or her rights under this Chapter, using the form prescribed by City staff; however this shall not prohibit offers made in pending unlawful detainer actions;
  • Engage any tenant in any form of human trafficking as defined by California Penal Code section 236.1, as a condition of that tenant’s continued occupancy of a Rental Unit. Id.

Like the Oakland TPO discussed earlier, before a tenant can bring a claim in civil court for violation of certain subsections listed above, the tenant must first comply with the notice requirement to the property owner or the owner’s agent. Id. Landlords found to have violated the TPO can be liable for actual damages, attorney fees, treble damages, injunction, and an award of civil penalties in the sum of between $1,000 and $10,000 for each violation. Plus, the landlord may be held liable for an additional penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation against any person who is disabled or elderly (age sixty-five or over).



What Are The Harassment Laws In The City Of Long Beach?

The City of Long Beach passed an emergency ordinance on November 2, 2020 that went into immediate effect. Long Beach, Cal., Mun. Code § 8.101. Under this new Long Beach tenant harassment law, no landlord shall:

  • Interfere with or fail to provide housing services required by state or federal law, or violate or threaten to violate Cal. Civil Code § 789.3 (i.e., utility shutoffs and illegal lockouts);
  • Fail to perform timely repairs and maintenance required by contract or by federal and state laws; fail to complete repairs once undertaken; fail to follow appropriate industry protocols for the abatement of potentially harmful conditions or building materials; or conduct optional renovation or construction of a residential rental unit for the purpose of harassing a tenant;
  • Abuse the right of access into a dwelling unit as established by Cal. Civil Code § 1954 – including, but not limited to, entries for inspections not related to necessary repairs or services; excessive number of entries – especially outside normal business hours; and misrepresenting the reasons for accessing a rental housing unit;
  • Influence, coerce or threaten a tenant to vacate a unit through fraud and misrepresentation, which shall include threatening to report a tenant to the United States Department of Homeland Security;
  • Threaten a tenant with physical harm – by word, gesture or in writing;
  • Violate any law which prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, sexual preference, sexual orientation, ethnic background, nationality, religion, age, parenthood, marriage, pregnancy, disability, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), occupancy by a minor child, or source of income;
  • Take any action to terminate a tenancy, or bring any action to take possession of a dwelling unit, based upon facts which the landlord has no reasonable cause to believe to be true or upon a legal theory which is invalid under the facts known to the landlord;
  • Provide false written or verbal information regarding any protections the tenant is entitled to, including, but not limited to, asking or forcing a tenant to sign a new lease not in their native language;
  • Refuse to acknowledge or accept a tenant’s lawful rent payment, refuse to cash a rent check for over 30 days after it is presented; fail to maintain a current address for delivery of rent payments; fail to maintain an online payment portal/fund transfer program active and without interruption; or otherwise violate Cal. Civil Code § 1962;
  • Violate a tenant’s right to privacy, including, but not limited to, by requesting information about residence or citizenship status, protected class status, or social security number; release such information except as required or authorized by law; or request or demand an unreasonable amount of information from a tenant in response to a Reasonable Accommodation request;
  • Communicate with the tenant in a language other than the tenant’s primary language for the purpose of intimidating or deceiving the tenant;
  • Interfere with the right of tenants to organize and engage in activities for the purpose of mutual aid and protection; deny property access to tenant advocates; prevent tenant or tenant organization meetings in an appropriate space accessible under the terms of a Rental Agreement; or discourage distribution or posting in common areas of literature informing other tenants of their rights; or
  • Repeatedly violate the covenant of quiet enjoyment of any person lawfully entitled to occupancy of a dwelling, especially to cause that tenant to vacate the dwelling or to surrender their rights to occupy the dwelling.

Long Beach tenants harassed by their landlord can sue for a variety of relief including injunction, money damages, attorney fees and costs, a civil penalty of at least $2000, and any other relief the Court deems appropriate. If a tenant is over the age of 65 or disabled, a judge can award an additional $5,000 per violation.



What Are The Harassment Laws In The City Of Culver City?

In June of 2019, the City Council of the City of Culver City added a Tenant Protections section to their Municipal Code addressing Retaliatory Eviction and Anti-Harassment. Culver City, Cal., Mun. Code § 15.09.340. This new ordinance established a permanent tenant protection program. Concerning Retaliatory Eviction, the ordinance asserts:

  •  If a tenant has not defaulted on a rent payment, a landlord may not terminate or refuse to renew a tenancy with an intent to retaliate;
  •  Retaliation against a tenant because of the tenant’s exercise of rights under this section is prohibited;
  •  In evaluating claims of landlord retaliation, the court may consider the protections of the Culver City tenant protection program.

If a tenant can prove they exercised their rights under law within six months prior to an alleged act of retaliation, this will create a rebuttable presumption that the landlord’s act was retaliatory. The anti-harassment portion of the ordinance asserts that no landlord, agent, contractor, subcontractor or employee of the landlord shall violate the tenant protections in Cal. Civil Code § 789.3 and § 1940.2, or similar state and federal laws, or engage in any activity that violates the tenant’s right to the quiet enjoyment of their unit. The ordinance prohibits the landlord from doing any of the following in bad faith:

  • Interfere with or fail to provide housing services required by state, local or federal law;
  • Fail to perform repairs and maintenance required by the rental agreement or by state, local or federal law;
  • Fail to exercise due diligence in completing repairs and maintenance once undertaken or fail to follow appropriate industry standards or protocols designed to minimize exposure to noise, dust, or other building materials with potentially harmful health impacts.
  • Abuse the right of access into a rental unit. This includes, but is not limited to, entries for inspections that are not related to necessary repairs or services; entries that are unreasonable in frequency or duration; entries that improperly target individual occupants or are used to collect evidence against an occupant or are otherwise beyond the scope of a lawful entry;
  • Repeatedly speak to tenants in person or communicate with them via social media or other communications, with language that a reasonable person would consider likely to cause fear or provoke violence;
  • Influence or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate a rental unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion, which shall include but is not limited to threatening to report a tenant to the United States
  • Department of Homeland Security;
  • Threaten a tenant, by word or gesture, with physical harm;
  • Knowingly and intentionally violate any law which prohibits discrimination against the tenant based on race, gender, sexual preference, sexual orientation, ethnic background, nationality, religion, age, parenthood, marriage, pregnancy, disability, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), occupancy by a minor child, or source of income;
  • Demand sex from a tenant in exchange for obtaining needed maintenance on the rental unit, or make other quid pro quo sexual demands; subject a tenant to severe or pervasive unwelcome physical contact or lewd comments about a tenant’s body; send sexually suggestive texts or enter the rental unit without invitation or permission; or engage in other actions that create a hostile environment;
  • Terminate any tenancy, based upon facts which the landlord has no reasonable cause to believe to be true or upon a legal theory which the landlord knows is invalid;
  • Remove personal property, furnishings, or any other items from the rental unit without written consent of the tenant, except pursuant to enforcement of a legal termination of tenancy;
  • Offer payments to a tenant to vacate more frequently than once every six months, after the tenant has notified the landlord in writing that the tenant does not desire to receive further offers of payments to vacate;
  • Attempt to coerce a tenant to vacate with offers of payment to vacate or buyout as described above, with the addition of threats or intimidation. This shall not include settlement offers made in good faith in pending unlawful detainer actions and which are not accompanied by threats or intimidation;
  • Refuse to acknowledge receipt of a tenant’s rent payment made during the term of the tenancy and in accordance with the rental agreement;
  • Refuse to cash a rent check for over 30 days;
  • Request information that violates a tenant’s right to privacy including, but not limited to, residency or citizenship status, protected class status, or social security number, except as required by law or, in the case of a social security number, for the purpose of determining the tenant’s qualifications for a tenancy; or release any such information that is in landlord’s possession, except as required or authorized by law;
  • Violate a tenant’s right to privacy in the rental unit, including but not limited to, entering, photographing, or video recording portions of a rental unit that are beyond the scope of an authorized entry or inspection;
  • Interfere with a tenant’s right to quiet use and enjoyment of a rental unit under state law;
  • Interfere with the right of tenant to organize as tenants and engage in activities with other tenants for the purpose of mutual aid and protection; provide access to tenant organizers, advocates, or representatives working with or on behalf of tenants living at the property; arrange tenant or tenant organization meetings in an appropriate space accessible to tenants under the terms of their rental agreement; or distribute and post literature in common areas, informing tenants of their rights and of opportunities to participate in organized tenant activities.

A landlord who violates any provision of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and may be subject to an administrative fine of up to $1,000 – with every day a violation occurs or continues, considered a separate violation. A landlord found to be in violation of this section shall be liable to the tenant for actual damages, emotional distress, and attorney fees. Culver City, Cal., Mun. Code § 15.09.345.   The City Attorney is authorized to bring a civil action for violation of this section, for civil penalties or other relief, and may take other steps necessary to enforce this section. The city’s decision to pursue or not pursue enforcement does not prevent a tenant from pursing their own civil case, nor are tenants required to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing suit. Culver City, Cal., Mun. Code § 15.09.350.



What Are The Harassment Laws In The City Of Santa Monica?

In 2015, Santa Monica amended Section 4.56 of their Municipal Code to clarify and extend protections against tenant harassment when complaints increased that year. Santa Monica, Cal., Mun. Code § 4.56. Under the Santa Monica anti-harassment and tenant protection statute, no landlord shall do anything of the following in bad faith:

  • Interrupt or fail to provide housing services required by contract or by state, federal or local health and safety laws;
  • Fail to perform repairs and maintenance required by contract or by state, federal or local health and safety laws;
  • Fail to complete repairs and maintenance once undertaken;
  • Abuse the landlord’s right of access into a rental housing unit as that right is specified in California Civil Code § 1954. This includes entries for “inspections” that are not related to necessary repairs or services, are excessive in number; target certain tenants or are otherwise beyond the scope of a lawful entry;
  • Verbally abuse the tenant with the intent to provoke a violent reaction;
  • Influence or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate a rental housing unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion;
  • Threaten the tenant, by word or gesture, with physical harm;
  • Violate any law which prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, sexual preference, sexual orientation, ethnic background, nationality, religion, age, parenthood, marriage, pregnancy, disability, AIDS or occupancy by a minor child;
  • Terminate any tenancy, based upon facts which the landlord has no reasonable cause to believe to be true or upon a legal theory which the landlord knows is invalid;
  • Interfere with a tenant’s right to quiet use of their rental unit;
  • Refuse to acknowledge receipt of a tenant’s lawful rent payment;
  • Interfere with a tenant’s right to privacy, including, but not limited to, entering or photographing portions of a rental housing unit that are beyond the scope of a lawful entry or inspection.

Landlords in violation of Section 4.56 are liable for statutory damages of $1,000 to $10,000 and shall be liable for attorney fees. Each violation against tenants 65 or older will result in an additional civil penalty of $5,000.



What Are The Harassment Laws In The City Of Emeryville?

The Emeryville Rent Ordinance’s anti-harassment provisions protect Emeryville tenants from landlord harassment. Landlords that harass or retaliate against tenants face civil remedies. Emeryville, Cal., Mun. Code § 5-40.05. No landlord may do any of the following in bad faith:

  • Interrupt, fail to provide, or threaten to interrupt or fail to provide any housing services under the rental agreement, including but not limited to utility services and other amenities and services agreed to by contract;
  • Fail to perform repairs or maintenance required by contract or by state, county, or local housing, health, or safety laws;
  • Fail to exercise due diligence to complete repairs and maintenance once undertaken, including the failure to follow industry-appropriate safety standards and protocols;
  • Abuse or otherwise improperly use landlord’s right to access the property;
  • Remove personal property of a tenant from the rental unit;
  • Influence or attempt to influence a tenantto vacate the unit by means of fraud, intimidation, or coercion (including but not limited to threats based on immigration status);
  • Offer payment or any other consideration, in return for a tenant vacating the unit, more often than once every six months;
  • Threaten the tenant by word or gesture with physical harm;
  • Interfere with the tenant’s right to quiet use and enjoyment of the rental unit;
  • Refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of lawful rent from the tenant;
  • Refuse to cash a rent check for over 30 days;
  • Interfere with the tenant’s right to privacy;
  • Request information that violates the tenant’s right to privacy;
  • Other repeated acts or omissions of such significance as to substantially interfere with or disturb the tenant’s comfort, repose, peace, or quiet enjoyment, and that cause, are likely to cause, or are intended to cause the tenant’s to vacate the unit; or
  • Retaliate against the tenant for the their exercise of rights under this chapter or state or federal law.

The Emeryville Rent Ordinance contains a private right of action for landlord violations. The tenant or the City may file a civil proceeding for money damages, injunctive relief or both against a landlord who engages in activities prohibited under this section. Emeryville, Cal., Mun. Code § 5-40.06. The ordinance also includes a chapter outlining specific language that must be contained in a notice provided to tenants of their rights. Landlords must provide this notice in circumstances including, but not limited to, entering a lease or rental agreement, when renewing a lease or rental agreement or with a notice of termination. Emeryville, Cal. Mun. Code § 5-40.07



What are the harassment laws in the City of West Hollywood?

The City of West Hollywood anti-harassment statute states that no landlord shall willfully engage in harassment of any tenant of a rental housing unit in a manner that is likely to create a hostile living environment or cause the tenant to vacate the unit.  West Hollywood, Cal. Mun. Code § 17.52.090.  As used here, harassment includes but is not limited to the following conduct:

  • A reduction of housing services as the term “housing service” is defined in this title;
  • A reduction of maintenance or failure to perform and complete necessary repairs or maintenance;
  • Abusing the right of access into a rental housing unit as established and limited by California Civil Code section 1954;
  • Engaging in abusive conduct toward a tenant through the use of words which are offensive and inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction;
  • Enticing a tenant to vacate the unit through intentional misrepresentation or concealment of a fact;
  • Threatening a tenant, by word or gesture, with physical harm;
  •  Misrepresenting to a tenant that the tenant is required to vacate a rental housing unit;
  • Failing to exercise due diligence in performing and completing repairs to a rental housing unit after obtaining possession of the unit for the purpose of performing the repairs;
  • Engaging in an activity prohibited by federal, state or local law which prohibits housing discrimination on any basis including but not limited to sexual orientation, race, color, sex, ancestry, ethnic origin, national origin, religion, age, marital status, familial status, parenthood, pregnancy, disability, medical condition including, but not limited to, AIDS or AIDS-related conditions, gender identity, occupancy by a minor child, citizenship, or status as a student;
  • Threatening to terminate a tenancy, recover possession of a rental unit, or evict a tenant from a rental unit without a proper factual and legal basis;
  • Engaging in any act or omission which interferes with the tenant’s right to use and enjoy the rental unit;
  • Refusing to acknowledge or accept receipt of lawful rent payments;
  • Engaging in any act whereby the premises are rendered unfit for occupancy, or the tenant is deprived of the beneficial enjoyment of the premises; and
  • Engaging in any conduct intended to annoy or intimidate a tenant.

A West Hollywood landlord who harasses a tenant is liable for each and every such offense for actual damages to the tenant, or for statutory damages in the sum of one thousand dollars ($1000.00), whichever is greater, and for punitive damages. The tenant may also recover attorney fees and costs. West Hollywood, Cal. Mun. Code 17.68.010 (D).



What are the harassment laws in Union City?

On April 11, 2017, Union City approved an ordinance that added Chapter 5.50 “Residential and Landlord and Tenant Relations” to the City’s municipal code, regulating most residential rental units in the City and specifically prohibiting landlords from engaging in specific harassment activity. Union City, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.50.050 A landlord may not do any of the following in bad faith:

  • Interrupt, fail to provide, or threaten to interrupt or fail to provide any housing services under the rental agreement, including, but not limited to, utility services and other amenities and services agreed to by contract;
  • Fail to perform repairs or maintenance required by contract or by State, County, or local housing, health, or safety laws;
  • Fail to complete repairs and maintenance once undertaken, including the failure to follow safety standards and protocols;
  • Abuse or otherwise improperly use landlord’s right to access the property;
  • Remove personal property of the tenant(s) from the rental unit;
  • Influence or attempt to influence the tenant(s) to vacate the unit by means of fraud, intimidation, or coercion (including, but not limited to, threats based on immigration status);
  • Offer payment or any other consideration, in return for the tenant(s) vacating the unit, more often than once every six months;
  • Threaten the tenant by word or gesture with physical harm;
  • Interfere with the tenant’s right to quiet use and enjoyment of the rental unit;
  • Refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of lawful rent from the tenant(s);
  • Refuse to cash a rent check for over thirty days;
  • Interfere with the tenant’s right to privacy;
  • Request information that violates the tenant’s right to privacy;
  • Other repeated acts that substantially interfere with or disturb the tenant(s) comfort, repose, peace, or quiet enjoyment, and that cause, are likely to cause, or are intended to cause the tenant to vacate the unit; or
  • Retaliate against the tenant for their exercise of rights under this chapter or State or Federal law.

A tenant in Union City who is subjected to prohibited acts, or faces retaliation by a landlord for exercising any rights under this chapter, may bring a civil private right of action for money damages, injunctive relief, or both. Prevailing tenants are entitled to costs and reasonable attorney fees.  Union City, Cal. Mun. Code § 5.50.080 (A)(B)(1).



What Are The Claims And Damages In A Tenant Lawsuit Against Their Landlord For Harassment?

As discussed above, depending on which jurisdiction the tenant resides, tenants can recover a myriad of damages in a lawsuit against their landlord for harassment. Some of the damages include actual damages, treble damages, punitive damages, attorney fees and costs, civil penalties that vary in amount depending on the city, and in some jurisdictions, additional awards for disabled or elderly tenants are available.   Aside from the harassment claim, other claims a tenant may pursue against the landlord that will yield additional money damages are for breach of contract and covenant of quite enjoyment, wrongful or constructive eviction, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Breach of Contract and Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment: Implied in every residential lease is a covenant of quiet enjoyment, guaranteeing that tenants will be able to peacefully enjoy their homes. Cal. Civ. Code § 1927. Where a landlord has substantially interfered with a tenant’s peaceful enjoyment of a unit, the tenant can sue for back rent. Through use of expert appraisers, the court will determine if, and by how much, the rental value of the property declined due to the harassment. In Guntert v. City of Stockton, 55 Cal. App. 3d 131 (1976), for example, the court awarded a tenant back rent where the landlord gave several arbitrary eviction notices. Where a tenant is under constant threat of eviction, receives unlawful eviction notices, is verbally or physically threatened by a landlord, and is not benefiting from timely and proper repairs, the tenant can file a breach of contract claim against the landlord. Id. at 139. Constructive Eviction: If a tenant is forced out of a rent-controlled home because of landlord harassment, the tenant can sue for the cost to replace the rent-controlled home. At least one court has allowed a tenant to recover twenty years worth of increased rent. Where a landlord is motivated by a desire to get a rent-controlled tenant out from under rent control, this rent differential may be trebled (i.e. tripled). Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: In cases of particularly outrageous conduct, a tenant may sue a landlord in tort for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The elements of the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress are “(1) extreme and outrageous conduct by the defendant with the intention of causing, or reckless disregard of the probability of causing, emotional distress; (2) the plaintiff’s suffering severe or extreme emotional distress; and (3) actual and proximate causation of the emotional distress by the defendant’s outrageous conduct.” Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn., 46 Cal. 3d 1092, 1120 (1988) (emphasis added), quoting Cervantez v. J.C. Penney Co., 24 Cal. 3d 579, 593 (1979).

Where a tenant can prove that harassment is intentional or has a reckless disregard, the landlord will be required to pay actual and punitive damages. In the San Francisco case Richardson v. Pridmore, 217 P.2d 113, a tenant suffered a miscarriage as a result of being intentionally and wrongfully evicted. The landlord in that case broke into the tenants’ apartment while they were gone for a few days, put all their stuff in a basement, and changed their locks before giving the place to new tenants. The jury awarded plaintiffs a sum of $7,250 ($63,910 in 2009 dollars) as compensation. In Aweeka v. Bonds, 20 Cal. App. 3d 278 (1971), a landlord raised the rent on tenants in retaliation for a repair and deduct against tenants who used rent to repair. The court noted that no physical injury need be present to award damages for emotional distress. In Spinks v. Equity Residential Briarwood Apartments, 171 Cal. App. 4th 1004 (2009), the court determined that an unlawful eviction may be outrageous despite the “polite and sympathetic” attitudes of a landlord’s agents. A tenant’s particular vulnerability at the time of the eviction, in this case a recent reconstructive surgery of the arm, can make an unlawful eviction outrageous conduct on the part of the landlord.

When Should A Tenant Contact A Lawyer About Landlord Harassment?

Tenants who have a landlord that is using harassment in an attempt to force them to move should contact Tobener Ravenscroft LLP to speak with an experienced attorney.

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Settlements From Some Of Our Landlord Harassment Cases:



$225,000

recovered in action brought against landlord who harassed transgender tenants and failed to maintain an SRO building in San Francisco where individual rooms were rented out with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The landlord frequently trespassed into their rooms, demanded rent, dumped out their purses looking for money, and implied they should prostitute themselves to pay rent. The five plaintiffs suffered from collapsed ceilings, no heat, mice, bedbugs, filthy common area bathrooms and kitchen, and an unsecured building that led to frequent trespassing by homeless persons and drug-addicts.



$315,000

recovered on behalf of a single tenant who was forced out of his rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco when the landlord posted dozens of notes illegally demanding he move out in response to his complaints about lack of heat and unlawful rent increases.

$400,000

recovered in action brought against a landlord in San Francisco who failed to make repairs and abate several Notices of Violation issued by the City. Instead, the landlord harassed the tenants in attempts to force them to leave the rent-controlled unit they occupied for three decades. As a result of the landlord’s failure to repair, one of the tenants fell and suffered serious personal injuries requiring hospitalization.



$225,000

recovered on behalf of a single-parent living in an in-law unit in Oakland. The landlord engaged in a pattern of harassment aimed at forcing the tenant out of her rent-controlled unit. The landlord’s harassment included repeatedly yelling at the tenant, saying she needed to move out because her rent was too low, and telling her young son that she should call Child Protective Services on his mother.

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