Since Tuesday, November 22nd, James Dawes has occupied his home of five years in Riverbank, CA (north of Modesto) after being illegally locked out by his landlord, Brian Kelly, owner of the Denair Lumber Co. and several other rental properties. James has been battling cancer for years and must receive regular chemotherapy treatments. In recent months, his condition has severely worsened, and he has thus fallen several months behind on rent. In October, James offered to begin making up for unpaid rent but Kelly refused and said that he’d rather board the place up. Kelly is trying to sell the vacant building that his apartment is attached to – standing in his way is James.
A series of lock-outs began in October of this year, with Kelly locking James out and James re-entering his home six times. Over the course of these lock-outs, James has been denied access to shelter, his bathroom and his medicine. During the most recent lock-out, Kelly took all of James’ things: furniture, electronics, personal items, food, bedding, toiletries, medicine, etc. Local sheriffs who arrived on the scene after James had re-entered the home told Kelly that, in fact, they could not remove James because Kelly had evicted him illegally.
James is occupying his home to demand that the intimidation, illegal lockouts, and theft of his personal property by Brian Kelly stop at once. The day after James’s most recent re-entry into his home, Kelly reportedly drove by and said, “Don’t fuck with me, you have no idea how much money I have.” James wants his stolen property returned or to be compensated for it. He wants Kelly to remove the boards he put up in James’ windows, and un-weld the windows he welded. If Kelly can in good faith meet these demands, James would be willing to enter into a regular tenant agreement once again.
On Friday, November 25th, members of Modesto Solidarity Network gathered at James’ home, bringing supplies, making repairs, and sharing food. A banner was raised above his door that reads “Stop Illegal Lockouts, Brian Kelly is a Slumlord.” Flyers were also distributed in the neighborhood, detailing the situation and asking for solidarity.
Illegal lockouts are a rampant problem in this area; they occur when landlords forcibly lock tenants out of their homes and deny them access to their property. Under California law, landlords must provide a written notice of eviction which can be fought in court. Many landlords opt instead to use brute force, intimidation, or physical and verbal threats, kicking tenants out into the streets and taking their property from inside. For the elderly and those with medical needs, this can be deadly. Legal options for fighting illegal lockouts take time and money, and can be unsuccessful. By acting directly, we can meet our needs by fighting back. By occupying his home and taking a stand against what has been done to him, James’ struggle is an inspiration for all those who have been, are, or could be in a similar situation.