PC 396(f) Law / PC 396 Penalties / PC 396 Defenses
In some situations, it can be unlawful to evict a tenant in California. There are several sets of state and federal laws that can affect a landlord’s right to evict a tenant. This article focuses on the unlawful act of evicting a tenant during a state of emergency, such as a pandemic, earthquake, flood, etc. Other restrictions on evicting a tenant, which are not covered in this article, can include, but are not limited to, the following: Civil Rights violations (i.e. Equal Protection Clause Violations) Whistleblower statute violations, and more.
Penal Code 396: Per California penal code 396, it is unlawful to evict a tenant during a stated emergency. PC 396 covers other restrictions during an emergency, such as price gouging, but this article is focused on the application of PC 396 as it applies to evicting a tenant during a stated emergency.
The law of Penal Code section 396 begins with sort of a preamble related to the reasons for the existence of the law itself. It reads as follows:
The Legislature hereby finds that during a state of emergency or local emergency, including, but not limited to, an earthquake, flood, fire, riot, storm, drought, plant or animal infestation or disease, pandemic or epidemic disease outbreak, or other natural or manmade disaster, some merchants have taken unfair advantage of consumers by greatly increasing prices for essential consumer goods and services.
While the pricing of consumer goods and services is generally best left to the marketplace under ordinary conditions, when a declared state of emergency or local emergency results in abnormal disruptions of the market, the public interest requires that excessive and unjustified increases in the prices of essential consumer goods and services be prohibited.
It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this act to protect citizens from excessive and unjustified increases in the prices charged during or shortly after a declared state of emergency or local emergency for goods and services that are vital and necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of consumers, whether those goods and services are offered or sold in person, in stores, or online. Further, it is the intent of the Legislature that this section be liberally construed so that its beneficial purposes may be served (PC 396(a)).
PC 396(f) Law
It is unlawful for a person, business, or other entity to evict any residential tenant of residential housing after the proclamation of a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States or the Governor, or upon the declaration of a local emergency by an official, board, or other governing body vested with authority to make that declaration in any city, county, or city and county, and for a period of 30 days following that proclamation or declaration, or any period that the proclamation or declaration is extended by the applicable authority and rent or offer to rent to another person at a rental price greater than the evicted tenant could be charged under this section. It shall not be a violation of this subdivision for a person, business, or other entity to continue an eviction process that was lawfully begun prior to the proclamation or declaration of emergency.
Note: The period of restriction for evicting a tenant during a stated emergency may be extended in some circumstances (PC 396(b)).
PC 396(f) Definitions
“State of emergency” means a natural or manmade emergency resulting from an earthquake, flood, fire, riot, storm, drought, plant or animal infestation or disease, pandemic or epidemic disease outbreak, or other natural or manmade disaster for which a state of emergency has been declared by the President of the United States or the Governor (PC 396(j)(1)).
“Local emergency” means a natural or manmade emergency resulting from an earthquake, flood, fire, riot, storm, drought, plant or animal infestation or disease, pandemic or epidemic disease outbreak, or other natural or manmade disaster for which a local emergency has been declared by an official, board, or other governing body vested with authority to make that declaration in any county, city, or city and county in California (PC 396(j)(2)).
Note: This section does not preempt any local ordinance prohibiting the same or similar conduct or imposing a more severe penalty for the same conduct prohibited by this section PC 396(k)).
PC 396(f) Penalties
Jail Sentence: A violation of PC 396(f) is classified as a misdemeanor crime in California. If found guilty of unlawful eviction of a tenant, the defendant could face a jail sentence of up to one year in the county jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Probation Sentence: In some cases, a person convicted of unlawfully evicting a tenant, could face a probation sentence in lieu of an actual jail sentence. A probation sentence is a period of supervision as opposed to actual confined (with some exceptions, see below). A probation sentence comes with terms of probation that must be followed in order for the defendant to remain out of jail. A probation sentence in a PC 396(f) cases is almost always considered informal, which means that the defendant is not supervised by a probation officer, but rather, by the court. The terms of probation vary from case to case, but in most PC 396(f) cases, the terms will likely include the following: 1) commit no crime during probation (felony or misdemeanor), 2) pay restitution to the victim, 3) pay court fines and fees, and more.
Note: A term of probation can include a condition that the defendant spend some time in actual jail; however, the jail terms related to probation conditions are generally much shorter than what the defendant could have served if he or she was not granted probation. Also, jail terms that are made conditional as part of a probation sentence are often times served alternative on work release or house arrest (as opposed to serving the jail term in actual jail).
Additional Penalties: As with just about any criminal conviction, there are penalties and punishments beyond actual jail. These penalties PC 396(f) violations can include, but are not limited to the following: immigration consequences (i.e. denial of naturalization, entry into the U.S., remain in the U.S., deportation, denial of citizenship, and more). Professional licensing consequences (i.e. revocation, denial, suspension, or censorship, of a professional license or professional occupational license), denial of entry into the military (or discharge), court fines, fees, insurance rate hikes, loss of a business license, property forfeiture, reputation damage, future and contemporaneous violations of probation or parole, harsh probation terms, retraining orders, civil lawsuits, and more.
Note: The loss of the right to own or possess a firearm is not usually related to the punishments associated with PC 396(f).
In addition, per PC 396(i), a violation of PC 396(f) is considered unlawful business practice and an act of unfair competition (PC 17200), which could lead to penalties and punishments related to the defendant’s business (i.e. suspension, revocation, or business license(s), forfeiture of assets related to the business, and more).
Defenses to PC 396(f)
There is no single defense that works best in any particular situation. Every case where a tenant claims that he or she is unlawfully evicted must be reviewed on its own facts to determine what the best defense might be to that particular case. In any event, there are some common defenses to a PC 396(f) allegation. These defenses include, but are not limited to, the following: Insufficient evidence to prove the tenant was unlawfully evicted, tenant was lawfully evicted for a purpose other than the state of emergency (see below), statute of limitations, unlawful recording used as evidence against the landlord (PC 632 violations), and more.
Note: PC 396(f) does not prohibit an owner from evicting a tenant for any lawful reason, including pursuant to Section 1161 of the Code of Civil Procedure (PC 396(m)).
For more information on the crime of unlawful eviction of a tenant (PC 396(f)), or common defenses to PC 396 allegations, contact our criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation. Our criminal defense lawyers have successful handled hundreds of misdemeanor and felony allegations in the Inland Empire, Including the cities of Redlands, San Bernardino, Fontana, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Yucaipa, Rialto, Loma Linda, Highland, Victorville, and more. Our criminal defense law firm offers free first-time, in-office consultations for persons facing criminal charges arising out of San Bernardino and Riverside County. Call today!
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