When can a landlord lock me out of my rental property?
Generally, landlords are entitled to lock you out only if they have cause to believe that you have abandoned the premises or with the authorization of a court in a legal eviction proceeding. The landlord can lock you out on the basis of abandonment if he in fact knows you have abandoned the premises or if you have been absent for one half of the rental period without paying current rent or giving the landlord written notice of your intended absence.
Otherwise, the landlord cannot take possession of your rental property unless you surrender it or he takes it pursuant to a court order.
What action can I take if a landlord illegally locks me out?
You may file a lawsuit to force the landlord to allow you back into the premises. Generally, the assistance of an attorney is recommended for this action. You may also sue your landlord for actual damages. In addition to actual damages, a court has the power to award you up to $2,500 as punishment to the landlord for his illegal act. In determining the amount, if any, to be awarded, the court must consider (a) whether the landlord acted in good faith, (b) the course of conduct between the landlord and the tenant, and (c) the degree of harm to the tenant caused by the landlord's conduct.