A landlord may become liable to a tenant for "wrongful eviction". A case for damages for wrongful eviction may include any of a number of different claims that arise under California law, or, in San Francisco, under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. The Rent Ordinance permits a tenant to sue a landlord for a multiple of three times the amount of actual compensatory damages, including for emotional distress, plus punitive damages. In addition, the court may make specific orders against the landlord in order to obtain compliance with the law. Such orders are sometimes called "injunctions."
Liability for wrongful eviction may be based upon intentional misconduct, or even accidental or innocent failure to comply with complicated Rent Ordinance provisions. Such liability may be premised upon the mere service upon the tenant of a notice that does not comply with the Rent Ordinance. It some instances, liability for treble and punitive damages may even be based solely upon an oral comment made by the landlord to the tenant. For this reason, it is recommended that landlords seek advice from competent and experienced legal counsel before communicating with their tenants in any way that may be construed as an eviction threat.
Our office recommends that landlords obtain wrongful eviction insurance coverage. Such coverage is often available under commercial rental property insurance policies. It is usually not available under the typical homeowner's policy. However, coverage may be obtained through a personal liability "umbrella" policy. Preferably, such insurance should be obtained before any notices are served upon the tenant. It is sometimes difficult to obtain such insurance, but competent legal counsel may be able to assist.