Retaliatory Eviction for Commercial Leases in California

What is Retaliatory Eviction? 

Retaliatory Eviction usually arises when a landlord engages in retributive acts against a tenant for exercising their legal rights or participating in conduct that the landlord finds offensive. Some basic examples of objectionable conduct that might induce retaliatory actions from a landlord might include when a tenant alerts the local government agencies for building, health, or safety code violations reports maintenance and habitability issues, and joins or organizes a tenant’s association. Usually, landlords react in retribution by implementing rent increases, engaging in acts of harassment or intimidation or seeking to evict a tenant despite the tenant being in full compliance with their lease obligations.  

Residential vs. Commercial 

Often, Retaliatory Eviction issues occur in situations involving residential tenancies. This is because residential tenants tend to be less sophisticated, possess unequal levels of bargaining power and do not have the financial resources to pursue legal recourse against a landlord.

While less common, Retaliatory Eviction issues can and do occur in commercial tenancies.  These retaliatory acts from a commercial landlord can cause devastating effects to a commercial tenant and their business. Unfortunately, California real estate law does not protect commercial and residential tenants equally. 

The law assumes that commercial tenants can better protect themselves because they are usually more sophisticated business persons that possess equal levels of bargaining power as well as the financial resources to fight an aggressive and abusive landlord. However, these assumptions do not always match reality. Many times, commercial tenants and their businesses can be equally susceptible to the revengeful acts of a landlord as their residential counterparts. 

The Law

Under California law, residential tenants can state an affirmative cause of action for retaliatory discharge under California Civil Code § 1942.5. Explicitly California Civil Code § 1942.5 lays the foundations for a cause of action for retaliatory eviction against a landlord. However, when enacting California Civil Code § 1942.5, the California Legislature specifically did not grant this affirmative cause of action in for commercial tenants.

However, California Civil Code § 1942.5 (j) expressly states that “[t]he remedies provided by this section shall be in addition to any other remedies provided by statutory or decisional law.” Therefore, the language within the statute indicates that residential as well as commercial tenants have been afforded other legal solutions to address retaliatory conduct from landlords. 

The most important legal tools for commercial tenants are the common law defense of retaliatory eviction.  “The defense of ‘retaliatory eviction’ has been firmly ensconced in this state’s statutory law and judicial decisions for many years. [See, Custom Parking, Inc. v. Superior Court, (1982)138 Cal. App. 3d 90, 93–94; citing California Civil Code § 1942.5S.P. Growers Assn. v. Rodriguez, (1976), 17 Cal.3d 719, 724; Schweiger v. Superior Court, (1970) supra, 3 Cal.3d 507, 517. Therefore, commercial tenants still can assert this common law defense when a landlord files an unlawful detainer action against them for an improper purpose. 

If you are a commercial tenant in California facing an unlawful detainer action where you believe the landlord has filed the lawsuit for an improper purpose, you might be able to assert this defense to remain in possession. However, it is always recommended that you obtain the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney in this niche area of law.