In a prior post I discussed helpful tips for a new residential landlord. This week I thought I would write about tactics a landlord should not pursue. The following are 5 no-nos for a residential landlord.
1. Wrongfully turning off the utilities
Many landlords, for foolish reasons, do not like to use the legal process to remove a tenant from the rental unit. Even though eviction proceedings are largely expedient and straight-forward, many landlords nonetheless engage in non-judicial evictions, which is unlawful and potentially criminal. The term for this is "self-help." Even though it sounds harmless and borderline patriotic given the U.S.' self-reliance mentality, it is very much frowned upon by the law.
2. Improperly entering the unit
A residential landlord may enter the rented premises only during specified situations at certain times and typically only after giving the tenant written notice. CC §1954. Many landlord mistakenly assume that they can just show up to the rental unit without prior notice and demand entry into the unit to inspect the premises. The following are the permissible reasons to request entry into the unit
- in an emergency;
- to make necessary or agreed-on repairs, decorations, alterations, or improvements;
- to supply necessary or agreed-on services;
- to exhibit the unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, tenants, workers, or contractors;
- to make an inspection under CC §1950.5(f);
- when the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises; or
- under a court order.
Although it should be noted that a landlord may enter without prior notice if done to
- to respond to an emergency.
- if the tenant is present and consents to the entry at the time of entry.
- after the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the unit.
CC §1954(d)(1). Unfortunately there is no definition of "business hours" in civil code. Still, the reasonable interpretation of business hours is 8:00 - 5:00pm or 9:00 - 6:00pm Monday - Friday. Although the lease agreement may define what constitutes business hours such that the weekend is included.
If the landlord commits a significant and intentional violation of CC § 1954, the tenant can receive up to $2,000. CC § 1940.2(b).
3. Appropriating the tenant's valuable belongings
A common scenario is where the tenant breaks the lease early and the landlord is relegated re-renting the unit as required by law. CC § 1951.2. The tenant will often leave behind belongings, e.g. clothes, furniture and/or appliances. The landlord will then decide that since the tenant put them in a bind, the landlord will return the favor by appropriating their possessions left behind. Surprisingly, a landlord is legally able to keep the tenant's property provided the landlord has served them with a notice of abandonment and the value of the property is less than $300. CC § 1988(a). However, if the value of the property is above $300, the landlord is obligated to sell the property at public auction. CC §1993.07.
Since the landlord is granted the discretion to appraise the value of the tenant's belongings and is probably disgruntled that the tenant left behind some possessions, it is easy to see that this situation is ripe for abuse. For example, the landlord can easily devalue or deflate the true value of the items because there is no check on their discretion, plus they already view the tenant in a negative light for breaking the lease early. Moreover, many tenants are not prepared to litigate over a $275 couch and $50 mattress that the landlord misappropriated since attorneys charge that for an hour of time typically. Still, a landlord should know that just because the tenant left behind some property, this does not give them a license to appropriate the item for their own personal use. Rather the landlord needs to value the items and then make the appropriate legal determination.