Question: I separated from my husband six months ago. I rented an apartment a couple of months back so I could live in peace, but my husband keeps stalking and threatening me. The police were called the first time and tried to calm the situation, and when he showed up again a week later I obtained a restraining order. The resident manager has told me I need to leave before the end of the month because the owner doesn't want to upset the other tenants with my domestic problems. I cannot find another place before the end of the month. I am afraid I will wind up living on the street. What can I do?
Answer: The situation you describe qualifies you for protection under a new state law, California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161.3. This law prohibits terminating the tenancy of a victim of domestic violence if the domestic violence has been documented in a police report within the last 180 days or has resulted in a restraining order. Domestic violence covered by this statute includes stalking.
Because you have both a police report and a restraining order, you should be protected from eviction by this statute. You have the right to request that your landlord change the locks to your unit to ensure your husband cannot get in. If your landlord does not change the locks as requested within 24 hours, you may change the locks yourself, as long as you do so in a workmanlike manner and give the landlord a copy of the new key.
The law does allow the landlord to evict you if you voluntarily allow your husband into your unit or if your husband is a genuine danger to the other tenants. But if you continue to pay your rent, don't give permission to your husband to return and otherwise comply with the rental agreement, the landlord cannot terminate your tenancy.
If an eviction action (known as an unlawful detainer) is filed against you, you should file a written answer asserting this statute as defense to the eviction, and you should bring supporting evidence to show the judge on the day of the trial.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a mediation service based in Sunnyvale, Calif. To submit a question, go to http://www.housing.org.