A.G. Bonta Issues Legal Guidance for Law Enforcement Responding to Unlawful Lockouts and Evictions

Posted By: Daniel M. Yukelson Industry News,
Adapted From Attorney General, Rob Bonta, Press Release

California Attorney General, Rob Bonta, has recently issued legal guidance about steps law enforcement officers should take to prevent and respond to unlawful lockouts and self-help evictions. The California Department of Justice’s Housing Strike Force has received reports of landlords trying to “evict” tenants by changing the locks on rental properties, shutting off water or electricity, or removing tenants’ personal property, Attorney General Bonta’s press release has alleged. Under California law, the only lawful way to evict a tenant is to file a case in court. In a message to law enforcement, Attorney General Bonta emphasized that, when called to resolve a dispute between a landlord and tenant, law enforcement has a legal responsibility to intervene to prevent illegal evictions.

In a statement by Attorney General Bonta:

“Nearly 1.5 million renters in California are at risk of eviction, struggling to put together next month’s rent as the cost of living continues to rise,” said Attorney General Bonta. “While landlords may be frustrated, they have a responsibility to go through proper proceedings if eviction is the necessary next step. Let me be clear: That means filing a case in court. You cannot change the locks, shut off power, or remove personal property in order to force a tenant out of their home. These so-called self-help evictions are unlawful. Full stop. And you may be held civilly or criminally liable. Today’s guidance underlines law enforcement’s important role in responding to reports of illegal evictions and their responsibility to intervene to enforce the law and stop self-help evictions when they see them.”

The Attorney General’s press release advises that the Tenant Protection Act prohibits landlords from evicting most tenants without “just cause.” The law sets out two kinds of evictions: "at fault" evictions and "no fault" evictions. At fault evictions include, for example, nonpayment of rent, criminal activity on the premises, and refusal to allow lawful entry. No fault evictions include, for example, owner move-in, substantial remodel that requires permits and will take more than 30 days, and intent to demolish the unit. Landlords can only evict a tenant for one of the reasons listed here. The press release advises law enforcement that the only lawful way to evict a tenant is to file lawsuit and wait for the court to order the Sheriff or Marshal to carry out the eviction. Attorney General Bonta further warns that unlawful lockouts and self-help evictions are serious offenses and can result in major legal consequences, including law enforcement action or a private court case by the tenant.

In his recent bulletin, Attorney General Bonta provided the following guidance for law enforcement called to a dispute between a landlord and tenant:

  • Law enforcement should never help a landlord evict a tenant by force or threats.
  • Only the Sheriff or Marshal, or their deputies, may evict a tenant, and only with a court order.
  • Other peace officers should not ask the tenant to leave their home.
  • Law enforcement should advise the landlord or other persons involved that it is a misdemeanor to force tenants out of a rental property and should instruct them to allow the tenant back into the home.
  • Law enforcement should advise the landlord to seek legal advice if they have an issue with the tenant or to lawfully evict the tenant.
  • Law enforcement should write a report about the incident even if no arrest is made.

Attorney General Bonta’s office has stated that it is committed to advancing housing access, affordability, and equity in California, including protecting and promoting tenants' rights. However, what about the rights of rental housing providers?

In November, Attorney General Bonta announced the creation of his “Gestapo-like sounding” Housing Strike Force and launched a Housing Portal on California Department of Justice website with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants. Within the portal, renters can report grievances they have with landlords whether founded or otherwise, which allows the Department of Justice to open an investigation – does this sound familiar to 1930’s Germany?  In Attorney General Bonta’s recent press release, he states: “The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to housing@doj.ca.gov. To find a free legal aid attorney in your area, visit https://lawhelpca.org.”

Attorney General Bonta has previously sent warning letters obviously to intimidate law firms across the state that represent landlords in eviction cases after allegedly being notified that some firms and their clients may have violated the law.  What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty?!!