The Berkeley Rent Board Mailbag
Q: I am a tenant and my landlord has locked me out of my apartment. What should I do?
It is not legal for a landlord to lock a tenant out of an apartment. A landlord who wishes to evict a tenant must have one of the just causes listed in the Rent Ordinance and take the proper steps. These steps would involve serving a notice giving you an opportunity to correct the 'cause' or quit and, if necessary, filing an unlawful detainer action in court. You should contact the police and request that they escort you and facilitate your lawful re-entry. You might also want to contact an attorney about seeking recompense for your illegal exclusion from your unit.
Q: My tenant never pays his rent on time. His lease authorizes a $20 late fee each month the rent is late. I never used to enforce the late fee, but in January I wrote him a letter stating that I would start to enforce it beginning with the February rent. Since then, his rent has been late twice, but he has not paid any of the late fees. How do I now enforce them? Can I evict him for non-payment of late fees if his rent is paid but the late fees are not?
Late fees must be stated in the lease and must be reasonable (probably not more than 4 - 6% of the monthly rent). However, they are not considered part of the rent, so you may not evict a tenant for non-payment if his rent is paid but fees are not. Your recourse is to write him a letter demanding payment of the late fees; if he does not comply, you can file suit in small claims court. Of course, whenever the rent is late, you can serve your tenant with a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit; if he doesn't pay within 3 days, you may proceed with the eviction action. You may also be able to serve him with a Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit, to recover the late fees or to evict for chronic lateness, but you should consult an attorney for more specific information about evicting the tenant.
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