What type of retaliatory conduct from my landlord could result in a lawsuit?
There are several scenarios when landlord retaliation is actionable. For example, if a tenant complains about a habitability issue, such as something is broken, and the landlord refuses to fix it and chooses to evict the tenant instead.
Another type of retaliation could be simply that the landlord says, “I am fed up with you, so I am going to increase your rent to make you move.”
In the first scenario, under California law, Section 1942.5(a):
“If the lessor retaliates against the lessee because of the exercise by the
lessee of his or her rights under this chapter or because of his complaint
to an appropriate agency as to tenantability of a dwelling, and if the lessee
of a dwelling is not in default as to the payment of his or her rent, the lessor
may not recover possession of a dwelling in any action or proceeding, cause
the lessee to quit involuntarily, increase the rent, or decrease any services
within 180 days [of a complaint].”
There is a safe harbor provision for the landlord when the presumed retaliatory conduct is permissible because they are doing it with lawful intent. For example, maybe they were planning to evict the tenant for a just cause anyway, or they were already going to increase the rent, and the landlord’s actions are unrelated to a retaliation issue. If the landlord can prove that, then Section 1942.5 would not apply, and the allegedly retaliatory conduct would not be actionable.