My Landlord Is Harassing Me. What Are My Rights?

Is your landlord, or any of his or her agents, failing to complete or even to start needed repairs to your unit?

Entering your unit when no one is home or without prior written notice?

Threatening, intimidating or trying to fool you into vacating your unit?

Refusing to cash your rent payment within thirty days or even to recognize you have a right to live in your unit?

Mistreating or discriminating against you because of your landlord’s beliefs about 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 of your unit by a minor child or children?

The answers to these questions vary depending on where you live in California.

San Francisco

Effective December 2008, section 37.10B was added to the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. Now, landlords and all his or her agents, employees, contractors or subcontractors, are expressly prohibited from engaging in bad faith in certain behaviors against tenants.

San Francisco Administrative Code §37.10B

(a)         No landlord, and no agent, contractor, subcontractor or employee of the landlord shall do any of the following in bad faith:

  1. Interrupt, terminate or fail to provide housing services required by contract or by State, County or local housing, health or safety laws;

  2. Fail to perform repairs and maintenance required by contract or by State, County or local housing, health or safety laws;

  3. 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;

  4. Abuse the landlord’s right of access into a rental housing unit as that right is provided by law;

  5. Influence or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate a rental housing unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion;

  6. Attempt to coerce the tenant to vacate with offer(s) of payments to vacate which are accompanied with threats or intimidation;

  7. Continue to offer payments to vacate after tenant has notified the landlord in writing that they no longer wish to receive further offers of payments to vacate;

  8. Threaten the tenant, by word or gesture, with physical harm;

  9. Violate any law which 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;

  10. Interfere with a tenant’s right to quiet use and enjoyment of a rental housing unit as that right is defined by California law;

  11. Refuse to accept or acknowledge receipt of a tenant’s lawful rent payment;

  12. Refuse to cash a rent check for over 30 days;

  13. Interfere with a tenant’s right to privacy;

  14. Request information that violates a tenant’s right to privacy, including but not limited to residence or citizenship status or social security number;

  15. 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.

Recognizing it would be impossible to specifically list every conceivable act of landlord harassment, 37.10B wisely includes number 15 as a “catch-all” provision which helps protect tenants against harassment where the landlord's actions do not fit within any of the other categories.  

As a result of Section 37.10B, tenants now have a great deal more explicit protection against unscrupulous and harassing landlords than ever before. If you suffer or have suffered harassment at the hands of your landlord or his or her agents as described above, you have a right to file a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court in addition to any petition you might file at the San Francisco Rent Board.

For each and every violation of Section 37.10B the court finds, the violator is liable to the tenant for actual damages, multiplied by three. Actual damages include damages for mental or emotional distress suffered by the tenant, and these too will be multiplied by three if the violator is found to have acted in knowing violation or reckless disregard of the protections of the Rent Ordinance. The violator or violators are also subject to punitive damages and paying the attorney fees and costs of the prevailing tenant.

One of the most important implications of Section 37.10B is that any landlord or landlord agent whose harassment of a tenant as defined by Section 37.10B is a substantial factor in causing the tenant to move out of his or her unit, then that landlord or landlord agent is liable for “wrongfully evicting” the tenant. If the tenant lived in a rent-controlled unit, his or her damages for being wrongfully evicted are often very substantial.

Oakland

The Oakland Rent Ordinance essentially mirrors that of San Francisco with its protections against landlord harassment. Oakland Code of Ordinances § 8.22.640.

Oakland’s ordinance also specifically prohibits, with limited exception, threatening to report a tenant to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, removing a tenant’s personal property or furnishings from a rental unit without prior written consent of the tenant, and taking away a parking space knowing that a tenant cannot find alternative parking and must therefore move.

Like San Francisco, the Oakland Rent Ordinance provides for substantial money damages against a landlord who harasses or retaliates against a tenant in violation of the Ordinance. O.C.O. §8.22.670.

Berkeley

Berkeley’s Rent Ordinance also contains specific language protecting tenants against harassment, as well as offering some protection against retaliation.

Berkeley Municipal Code 13.79.060(C)

No Landlord of any Rental Unit located in the City of Berkeley, shall do any of the following in bad faith:

  1. Influence, or attempt to influence a Tenant to vacate a Rental Unit through fraud or intimidation, or through unauthorized physical acts.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Abuse the limited right of access into a Rental Unit as established and limited by Civil Code 1954.

  6. 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.

  7. 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, or other building materials with potentially harmful health impacts.

  8. Threaten not to perform repairs and maintenance required by contract, custom, or law, or threaten to do so.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

The Berkeley Rent Ordinance also prohibits a landlord from retaliating against a tenant who asserts or exercises any rights under the ordinance within six months of the landlord’s act(s) of retaliation. Berkeley Municipal Code § 13.76.140. Examples of landlord retaliation include threatening to file or filing an eviction lawsuit, causing a tenant to involuntarily move out, decreasing housing services, or increasing rent intending to retaliate against a tenant.

The Berkeley Rent Ordinance defines "Housing Services" as including but not limited to: 

"repairs, maintenance, painting, providing light, hot and cold water, elevator service, window shades and screens, storage, kitchen, bath and laundry facilities and privileges, janitor services, refuse removal, furnishing, telephone, parking and any other benefit, privilege or facility connected with the use or occupancy of any rental unit. Services to a rental unit shall include a proportionate part of services provided to common facilities of the building in which the rental unit is contained."

California

California law does not explicitly protect tenants against landlord harassment, but it does protect against retaliation.

Every tenant in California is protected by state law from certain kinds of landlord harassment or retaliation. California Civil Code Section 1942.5, among other things, prohibits a landlord from retaliating against a tenant who “lawfully and peaceably exercised any rights under the law.” This is a broad standard of protection covering a wide variety of landlord retaliation and rights as exercised by tenants.

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Individual case facts should be carefully analyzed particularly in cases of landlord harassment or retaliation. If you, your loved ones or friends are or have been harassed by a landlord or any agent of a landlord, you should contact experienced tenant attorneys, like those at Humphreys Joiner Law Group, who can provide you with personalized advice and tenacious representation to enforce your rights as tenants.