Evictions: Why you should not claim that you are moving into the property

You own a rental property, and you wish to evict the current tenant. They pay rent on time, but late. The neighbors complain frequently, but when you notify the tenant, they correct their action. You look at the eviction form and think: None of these options apply, maybe I should just say that I want to move into the property. At least then I don’t need a good reason. Keep reading, and I will tell you why this is such a dangerous tactic.

How do I know anything about landlording?

My name is Jared Clemence, and I help real estate investors purchase rental properties in Bakersfield. At night I attend law school, and this year, I assist in the unlawful detainer clinic in which we provide “information” to landlords seeking help with the eviction process.

While working as a real estate agent for investors, I have heard landlords recommend the process mentioned above. I’ve heard them say that “You can always claim that you want to move into the property. It is your property after all.”

They always seem to stress that part: It’s your property. The word “your” stretches like a grand flag that flutters in the wind on a victory lap.

The thing of it is this: to a degree, it’s true. But, for as much truth as it holds, it also holds some risks! Keep reading, and I will share with you the down side.

What the law says will shock you

The law agrees with you. You can oust a tenant and state the reason being that you want to live there, but it comes with a price: You actually have to live there.

California Civil Code section 1947.10 reads: “. . . any owner who evicts a tenant based upon the owner’s or the owner’s immediate relative’s intention to occupy the tenant’s unit, shall be required to maintain residence in the unit for at least six continuous months.” (Emphasis added)

You read that correctly. You can use this tactic, but you also must live in the unit for 6-months. No exceptions, and the penalties can be steep.

The penalties for failing to move in

The key word is “treble damages.” (Treble means ‘three-times’)

Under the law, the landlord who lies about moving into the unit owes the tenant treble damages. Specifically, section 1947.10 requires the landlord to pay 3x the tenant’s relocation costs and 3x the amount of any increased rents the tenant paid to other landlords. (Civ. Code, § 1947.10, subd. (a).) And, that’s if the tenant moves back into the unit. If the tenant doesn’t move back into the unit, the penalties can be higher.

When the tenant choses not to move back into the unit, the landlord owes 3x the cost of one month’s rent plus 3x the tenant’s original moving costs. (Civ. Code, § 1947.10, subd. (a).)

In both situations, the landlord must also pay for the tenant’s attorney’s fees and court costs. (Note, if the tenant hires an attorney, the attorney fees can quickly accumulate to amounts larger than any of the treble damage awards.)

The decision is always yours

As the landlord, there are lots of reasons that you can end a tenancy. And, whether you claim that you wish to occupy the property is your decision. However, be mindful that if you don’t actually move into the unit you could be looking at a very large bill from the court, and the tenant has the right to move back in.

Think twice before claiming that you want to occupy a unit for yourself.