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Q:     What is a "Civil Standby"?

A:    A Civil Standby is a situation where the police officer stands by to keep the peace in a situation involving a civil dispute.
There is no legal requirement that a law enforcement agency provide Civil Standby service.

This is very common in domestic or landlord/tenant disputes, where one party wants to remove his or her property from a dwelling for example. One of the parties will call our department and request a standby. The officer simply standbys and tries to insure that the move is done peacefully.

Under the rules of Marriage and Common Law, all property at a residence is known as common or community property. The police department cannot decide who owns what property. The police department cannot demand or use force to help the owner recover this type of property. A court order will settle who will be the rightful owner. The officer is a neutral party in such cases, however he or she may take action if one party assaults another.

In landlord/tenant disputes, officers will not interpret landlord leans as they apply to what a landlord or tenant says is their rightful property. Officers have no authority to either prevent one party from removing property nor allow another party to hold property.

Landlords that legally evict a tenant may, with a police officer present, instruct a the tenant not to come back onto the property. If the tenant returns, an officer may arrest the tenant for criminal trespassing if an officer witnesses the tenant on the property again. If, after being warned not to trespass, the tenant returns to the property, the landlord may charge the tenant with criminal trespassing in municipal court.

When property is repossessed, police officers may similarly standby while the agent making the repossession takes custody of the property but the police officer will not determine the legality of the issue. The police officers job it to insure that there is no physical violence when the agent takes possession of the property.

If one party claims that they legally own a piece of property and a second party claims that they are actually the legal owner, the party wanting to remove the property should obtain a court order of ownership for the property. Small claims courts usually handle this type of dispute.

When our officers are present our duty is only to ensure the personal safety of everyone present, not referee who can take property or prevent property from being removed under a landlord/tenant dispute. Even with a civil court order, our police officers cannot make anyone give or allow someone to receive property.

Consulting an attorney is advised in cases like this. If the tenant receives a court order to have his/her property returned to them, it is advised to have a third party receive the property on their behalf.