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The following material has been prepared by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to clarify some questions concerning Landlord-Tenant disputes. The various steps required to obtain a judgment in court can be complex. It is therefore always recommended that an attorney be contacted if confronted with a problem tenant. No one else is authorized or competent to give all the necessary advice.

ILLEGAL EVICTION. The property owner desiring to recover premises occupied by a tenant must follow certain legal procedures and cannot resort to "self help."

789.3 Code of Civil Procedure:

  • A landlord shall not with intent to terminate the occupancy under any lease or other tenancy or estate at will, however created, of property used by a tenant as his residence willfully cause, directly or indirectly, the interruption or termination of any utility service furnished the tenant, including, but not limited to, water, heat, light, electricity, gas, telephone, elevator, or refrigeration, whether or not the utility service is under the control of the landlord.

  • In addition, a landlord shall not, with intent to terminate the occupancy under any lease or other tenancy or estate at will, however created, of property used by a tenant as his or her residence, willfully:

    • Prevent the tenant from gaining reasonable access to the property by changing the locks or using a bootlock or by any other similar method or device;

    • Remove outside doors or windows; or

    • Remove from the premises the tenant's personal property, the furnishings, or any other items without the prior written consent of the tenant . . .

Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to prevent the lawful eviction of a tenant by appropriate legal authorities, nor shall anything in this subdivision apply to . . . (motels or hotels.)

  • Any landlord who violates this section shall be liable to the tenant in a civil action for all of the following:

  • Actual damages of the tenant.

  • An amount not to exceed one hundred dollars ($100) for each day or part thereof the landlord remains in violation of this section. In determining the amount of such award, the court shall consider proof of such matters as justice may require; however, in no event shall less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) be awarded for each separate cause of action . . .

TENANT NOTICES. Various types of notices are available at stationary stores. For example, a three-day notice to pay rent or quit may be used if the tenant is behind on the rent. Or, a thirty-day notice to terminate may be appropriate if rent is paid monthly. The proper notice must be legally served on the tenant. The Sheriff may be utilized to serve the notice, but someone other than the Sheriff may serve it. While there are alternative methods of service allowed by law, the notice is generally served personally upon the tenant.

UNLAWFUL DETAINER LAWSUIT. If the tenant refuses to move out under terms of the notice, a complaint must be filed in the proper court for recovery of possession of the premises. This action is termed "Unlawful Detainer."

SUMMONS AND COMPLAINT. After the complaint is filed, the court will issue a summons. A copy of this summons and a copy of the complaint must then be served upon the tenant. The Sheriff, or anyone over the age of 18 and not a party to the action, may serve the summons and complaint.

JUDGMENT. The tenant has five days, after the summons is served, to file a written answer with the court. If the tenant files the answer, wanting to contest the case, the court will set a date for trial. At the end of the five day period, if the tenant has not filed an answer to the complaint, a default judgment may be entered by the court.

WRIT OF EXECUTION (POSSESSION OF REAL PROPERTY). Once a judgment is rendered, the court may issue a writ of execution (possession of real property). This is the authority upon which forcible eviction of the tenant may be made. ONLY THE SHERIFF MAY ENFORCE THIS WRIT. The original writ and four copies, signed instructions to enforce the writ, and a fee deposit are required.

EVICTION PROCEDURE. The procedure for eviction, once the writ is delivered to the Sheriff for serving, is spelled out in Section 1174 of the Code of Civil Procedure. From the date of service of the writ by the Sheriff, the tenant is given five (5) days to vacate the premises. If the tenant fails to move out within the five day period, the Sheriff must conduct a forcible eviction.

Custody of all personal property of the tenant remaining on the premises at the time of forcible eviction is temporarily given to the landlord who must store it in a place of safekeeping. The tenant may redeem the personal property upon payment of reasonable costs of storage. The cost of storage shall be the fair rental value of the space reasonably required for storage for the term of the storage if the landlord stores the persona! property on the premises. Claims of Exemption and Third Party Claims on the defendant's property cannot be filed with the Sheriff.

If the belongings of the tenant are not redeemed within fifteen (15) days, they may be sold at public auction (by the plaintiff) or otherwise disposed of in accordance with Section 1174 of the Code of Civil Procedure. After deduction of the costs of storage, advertising, and sale, any balance of the proceeds of the sale which is not claimed by the former tenant must be paid into the county treasury.

RE-ENTRY AFTER EVICTION. Occasionally, after eviction by virtue of a Writ of Execution (Possession of Real Property), a tenant will decide to move back into the premises. The following laws may be enforced against the tenant by the local police department or Sheriff's patrol station.

419 Penal Code

"Every person who has been removed from any lands by process of law, or who has removed from any lands pursuant to the lawful adjudication or direction of any court, tribunal, or officer, and who afterwards unlawfully returns to settle, reside upon, or take possession of such lands, is guilty of a misdemeanor."

A landlord desiring to take action under the above section should have a copy of the writ under which the eviction was made, and in cases executed by the Sheriff, a copy of the Sheriff's receipt for possession of the property.

602.5 Penal Code

"Every person other than a public officer or employee acting within the course and scope of his employment in performance of a duty imposed by law, who enters or remains in any noncommercial dwelling house, apartment, or other such place without consent of the owner, or his agent, or the person in lawful possession thereof, is guilty of a misdemeanor."

1210 Code of Civil Procedure

"Every person dispossessed or ejected from any real property by the judgment or process of any court of competent jurisdiction, who, not having right so to do, reenters into or upon or takes possession of the real property, or induces or procures any person not having a right so to do, or aids or abets such a person therein, is guilty of a contempt of the court by which the judgment was rendered or from which the process issued. Upon a conviction for contempt the court must immediately issue an alias process, directed to the proper officer, and requiring the officer to restore possession to the party entitled under the original judgment or process . . . "

This section is enforceable only upon the defendants having been found guilty of contempt by the court itself. The plaintiff (landlord) must file a petition with the court, whereupon the defendant (tenant) may be ordered into court for a hearing regarding possible contempt. If found guilty by the court, the other provisions of the section may be carried out.

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