The Sheriff is a Sight No Neighbor Wants to See

Sheriff rolls into townHere is a sight nobody wants to see early on a Friday morning before Christmas: a Sheriff’s deputy probably on his way to serve a tenant his notice to vacate. It is heartbreaking to see it in my neighborhood and even worse to see it on the next block. The only thing worse is the Sheriff showing up for a lock-out. The notice to vacate is the penultimate step. When the Sheriff shows up, that means time is up.

There are really only two reasons one sees a Sheriff show up in Beverly Hills. One is to serve a tenant with a notice to vacate. The second is to lock-out a tenant. Both are particularly unwelcome in the days before the holidays because it means a family will soon be finding a new home.

What Happens Next?

The Sheriff shows up with a notice to vacate when the court finds for the landlord and issues a writ of possession. That comes at the conclusion of an unlawful detainer proceeding and from there on the clock ticks fast: within 48 hours of the trial the decision is issued and as soon as the next day the notice is served (on the tenant’s persona or posted conspicuously).

The notice to vacate means the tenant is walking the plank: within five days she’s out. Then on the 6th day the Sheriff can roll up for a ‘lock-out.’

If the judgment debtor, members of the judgment debtor’s household, and any other occupants holding under the judgment debtor do not vacate the property within five days from the date of service…the levying officer shall remove the occupants from the property and place the judgment creditor in possession…without delay. — Code of Civil Procedure §715.020

The Sheriff is called because the landlord cannot physically force the tenant out. Nor can he haul the tenants’ belonging to the curb or otherwise intimidate a tenant into leaving (or even lock her out himself). In fact the landlord is not entitled to possession until after the Sheriff has executed the writ of possession to restore the premises to the landlord. A tenant in this very unfortunate position (often because she has literally nowhere to go) is advised to surrender the premises. Arrest is next.

Seeing a Sheriff in town may suggest the final chapter in our neighbor’s tenancy. But that is not necessarily the end of the story. There is alternate lodging to be arranged, after all, and belongings (even pets) to be taken or abandoned.

What Happens to My Belongings

The tenant who is forcibly removed will have to move her personal belongings, leave them at the curb, or leave them behind in the apartment. If the latter, she does have an opportunity to reclaim them later as the law says the landlord must store them for at least 15 days if the value is estimated at more than $300.

Within that time the tenant can reclaim them, but only after paying the landlord for “reasonable costs” of storage (which the law identifies as “the fair rental value of the space reasonably required for that storage for the term of the storage”). The law provides for storage costs to be waived if the former tenant reclaims the property from the premises within two days vacating (Civil Code §1990).

The property is thereafter deemed abandoned. The landlord may keep it or dispose of the property after the 15-day period. But only if he “reasonably believes” the resale value of the property is less than $700.

If the estimated value is greater than $700 then the property must go to public sale (and the landlord can bid on it). The sale allows the tenant an opportunity to retake possession of the belongings. Beyond the sale, the tenant may claim sale proceeds (minus costs of storage, advertising and sale administration) within thirty days after the date of the sale. The tenant even has one more bite at the apple! The law requires the landlord to deposit the sale proceeds (minus those costs) with the County Treasurer. The tenant then has one year to file a claim with the Treasurer for the money.

Abandoned pets poses a special problem for both the tenant and the landlord. Animal Control is called if any is left behind. The animal(s) is then taken to a Los Angeles shelter where (in a ghastly replay of the eviction) the euthanasia clock may start ticking. (Adding insult to injury, the cost of animal control may be assessed to the landlord and then passed on to the tenant if the landlord wants to recover that money.) Better to contact a no-kill shelter or get in touch with rescue group than leave a pet behind.

Hopefully no tenant who must surrender her apartment encounters the hard landing described here. But this kind of end happens all too frequently. Any tenant who finds herself in this unenviable position of facing eviction should know that there are legal resources available that can help negotiate the unlawful detainer process. There are social agencies and pet rescues to assist with replacement housing or temporary accommodations.

However this hard road will be traveled more frequently now that rents are outpacing incomes and the economy looks to curdle. That’s why rent control cities put such a priority on establishing a sustainable maximum allowed annual rent increase and that’s why tenants in Beverly Hills are criticizing City Council’s proposed maximum allowed annual rent increase. It is the key to residential stability and we have to get it right if we are to avoid having the Sheriff come to town.