Question: I am a victim of the hard times. I had to move out of my apartment six months ago, and I have been living in a motel since then. I have been paying a monthly rent to the motel owner. About three weeks ago, the owner asked me to move to a different room, which I did. Then, last week the owner came to my new room and told me I had to be out of the room within 24 hours or he would call the police to arrest me. Can he do that?
Answer: No, even though you are not living in a traditional apartment building.
You have been living in this motel for more than 30 days with the permission of the owner, which under California law makes you a month-to-month tenant, entitled to the rights that all other tenants in the state enjoy.
These rights include a 30-day written notice of termination from your landlord before action is taken to remove you, and having your eviction determined in an unlawful detainer action in Superior Court if you remain after 30 days. Even then, you can be removed only after the Superior Court enters a judgment against you.
It is true that motel owners can remove short-term "transient" guests by calling the police, but once you establish tenant status, they can't. If the police do come, you should advise them that you are a lawful tenant, not a transient guest, and show them receipts documenting your long-term stay.
There is an exception to this rule in California Civil Code Section 1940 for long-term guests staying in a full-service hotel, one with maid service, room service, an on-site restaurant and other amenities, but based on your description, it does not seem like you are living in that type of facility.
The fact that your room was changed does not change your tenant status. Motel owners cannot defeat tenancy status simply by moving a resident to a different room every 30 days. This tactic is common but specifically prohibited by Civil Code Section 1940.1.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a nonprofit agency providing tenant-landlord and fair housing counseling in four Bay Area counties. To submit a question, contact email@example.com.