(The Center Square) – California law enforcement officers have a “legal responsibility to intervene” to prevent landlords from illegally evicting tenants, according to new guidance issued by Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Bonta announced Wednesday that the California Department of Justice’s Housing Strike Force has received reports of landlords attempting to evict tenants by changing the locks on their rental units, removing a tenant’s property or shutting off utilities. Each of these actions are considered illegal under California law, which states that tenants can only be legally evicted through a filed case in court.
In response to these reports, Bonta issued new guidance for law enforcement who are called to resolve a dispute between a landlord and a rental tenant. The guidance directs police officers to “never help a landlord evict a tenant by force or threats,” noting that only a sheriff, marshall or other deputies can evict a tenant by court order. Officers are also advised to never ask tenants to leave their homes and advise landlords that it is a misdemeanor to force tenants out of a property.
“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,” Bonta said in a statement. “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,” he added.
In March, California expanded eviction protections for Californians who applied for the state’s COVID-19 rent relief program through June 30. Those protections expired July 1 in most places, but expanded eviction protections are now in effect for certain tenants in San Francisco and Los Angeles County.
Though protections expired for most tenants, landlords are prohibited from evicting most tenants without “just cause” under the Tenant Protection Act. The law established “at fault” and “no fault evictions.”
“At fault” reasons for eviction include failing to pay rent or committing criminal activity, while “no fault” reasons include if the owner wants to demolish or move into the unit.
Landlords must file a lawsuit and wait for a court order from a sheriff or marshall to carry out an eviction, according to the attorney general’s office.