Question: I own a couple of houses that I rent out for extra income. Unfortunately, they are not in the best part of our town. I have a tenant living in one of them who may be dealing drugs or doing something else illegal because the police have arrested him several times. Every time he is arrested he makes bail and returns to the house in a day or so. Even though he pays the rent on time, I realize that I can't continue to allow him to live in my house. My plan is to change the locks the next time he is arrested, so he can't come back into the house. I know that I need to protect his property inside the house if I do this, but my plan is to move his belongings into a storage locker. I can't afford a lawyer to file an eviction case, so this is my only alternative. Will I be OK if I do this?
Answer: Although your frustration and concern sound legitimate, your plan would almost certainly be viewed as a "constructive eviction" specifically prohibited by California Civil Code Section 789.3. Changing the locks on a rental property, along with similar acts such as cutting off utilities, blocking physical access or removing the doors, are all prohibited by this statute, which imposes significant penalties for a violation. A landlord who engages in a constructive eviction may be liable to the tenant for a penalty of up to $100 for each day of the lockout, along with the tenant's actual damages such as replacement lodging and attorney's fees.