Despite eviction moratoriums in place to protect renters and homeowners during the pandemic, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department confirmed to NBC 7 Responds it resumed eviction lockouts in July, to the bewilderment of lawyers who represent tenants.
"Our office regularly follows up with the Sheriff's office and was told specifically that no lockouts whatsoever ... would be executed," said Erin Rounds, Managing Attorney at Tenants Legal Center. "They changed that and they're acting as the judge and executor."
SDSO told NBC 7 Responds they conducted 11 residential lockouts in July. That's after the department decided to suspend eviction enforcement in May following an outcry from local leaders amid the pandemic.
"The decision to conduct an eviction was made on a case by case basis," read the statement. "When possible, deputies conducted pre-eviction interviews and offered community resources to those who may need them."
These evictions were for cases processed before the moratorium was put in place, but Rounds says the case-by-case basis is a slippery slope.
"If you've got an active writ, fine do all of them," said Rounds. "But you can't decide which ones get executed and which don't, based on information provided to you by the landlord and the landlord only."
The sheriff's department said it is making these decisions based on "vacant locations or locations with reports of criminal activity," but Rounds represents a client who was locked out in July. Rounds said her client's home was not vacant nor a place of criminal activity.
"The landlord has gone in and actually destroyed their property," said Rounds. "They were not given the right to go in and retrieve their property."
Even though these cases were filed before the pandemic, Rounds believes the moratorium should still protect these tenants.
"Every tenant is a person and every person is entitled to their rights under the law," said Rounds. "Right now, the laws clearly say you cannot be evicted, and so they are entitled to those rights even if those writs were processed, but not executed, before these [moratoriums] came out."
SDSO told NBC 7 Responds, of the 11 residential evictions, five homes were considered abandoned, while six were occupied. In four of those homes, SDSO says its deputies confirmed criminal activity was taking place. The fifth home had an elderly woman living in "deplorable conditions' who was taken to the hospital for mental and other health concerns. The final eviction was done because the court order was about to expire.
"Each of the displaced tenants were offered assistance," said the statement from SDSO. "[That] included resources for temporary housing."
Rounds said these evictions still go against the intent of the law.
"The moratoriums were put in place so that no one would be locked out of their home," said Rounds. "This is a slippery slope for the sheriff's office to basically decide what they think is a health and safety risk and decide what they think should be an interpretation of the current laws."
While no eviction trials are happening right now, landlords are still trying to find ways to force tenants to leave. Rounds said some are posting a "notice of abandonment."
"Landlords are now posting these on premises to justify going in and changing the locks themselves," said Rounds. "They're trying to bypass the eviction process that every tenant is entitled to."
If you see a legal notice posted on your door, whether a notice of abandonment or of lockout, Rounds said you need to contact an attorney as soon as possible.
"It's imperative you contact an attorney to figure out what your rights are," said Rounds. "With everything that is constantly changing you want to contact an attorney to find out what is going on."