Evicting a tenant in California is a multi-step and time-consuming process. As a landlord, the only way to evict a tenant who violated their lease agreement is by winning an eviction lawsuit in court. Landlords must know how the eviction process works so they can remove unwanted tenants quickly to cut losses.
The eviction lawsuit is often referred to as the unlawful detainer action in California, and the entire process usually takes about one month. The tenant is the “defendant,” while the landlord is the “plaintiff,”.
The state of California eviction lawsuits are prioritized over other legal matters, except criminal cases.
Here’s an outline of all the fundamental steps required when evicting a tenant in California.
Step 1. Legal grounds to remove the tenant
Before a landlord can proceed with evicting a tenant in California from his premises, he must have a credible reason for doing so. In California, evictions are likely when a tenant:
- Fails to pay rent
- Violates the lease
- Damages the property and reduces its value
- Stays beyond the agreed upon rental period
- Uses the property for illegal and unlawful activities
- Causes a nuisance to other tenants and neighbors.
If your situation meets the above criteria, it is possible to evict your tenant.
Landlords should know that it is unlawful to physically remove the tenant, cut off tenants’ utilities, dispose of the tenant’s property, change the locks, remove windows and doors, or threaten the tenants with illegal methods of eviction. It is also illegal to file an eviction lawsuit in retaliation to the tenant for exercising a right.
If you use illegal or unlawful methods to remove tenants or make mistakes during the eviction process, it can impact your case negatively – and your case may end up being dismissed. You can also be penalized and sued for damages.
Step 2. Serve tenant with a legal notice
Before serving the legal notice to the tenant, it is advisable to contact the tenant and try to figure out the situation- hire a mediator first or attempt solving the problem through negotiation for a more amicable resolution. You can continue with the court process if this approach doesn’t work. Other options include:
- Serving the tenant by personally handing over the notice.
- Employ the use of “substituted service,” which means handing the notice to an adult at the rental property and the tenant’s workplace.
- You are also allowed to pin the notice to the tenant’s door and mail a copy to the tenant.
When evicting a tenant in California, many tenants claim that the notices weren’t served correctly. It is important to take great care in handling the process while including all necessary documentation. A tenant may also use the opportunity to expose the landlord’s misconducts, and if he is found guilty of breaking the law, it could make the case to sway in favor of the tenant.
Step 3. Wait for the tenant to respond
Depending on the type of notice served, the tenant is given a specific amount of time to fix the cause of eviction. A notice of failure to pay rent gives the tenant three days to pay up before the landlord proceeds with filing a lawsuit.
From the time the tenant receives three-day notice, the tenant has three options:
- the tenant may move out
- pay up within the three-day timeframe
- not respond to the notice at all – which permits the landlord to proceed to the next step of the eviction proceedings.
Step 4. File an Unlawful Detainer Complaint
If the time window stated in the notice has expired, then you can proceed to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to evict the tenant. Start by filling the complaint form at the courthouse. Click to find the court in your area.
The form should be meticulously filled, and details must be factually accurate. The clerk will issue a summons to the tenant which they will have to respond to within five days. Upon filing an Unlawful Detainer Complaint form, the eviction process ordinarily takes about two months, and in some cases can take longer.
Step 5. Wait for the tenant to respond to the lawsuit or vacate the property
The tenant is given an ultimatum of five days to move out from the property or file a “response” to the court with a motion to attack the sufficiency of the notice or a motion to attack the method of service or a motion to answer the complaints received.
After five days, you can request for a court date by filing another form with the court clerk. You will then provide enough evidence to prove that you went through the eviction process properly.
Step 6. Go to the court
A court date is usually set within 10 to 20 days upon request. The landlord and the tenant will have opportunities to present evidence to the judge and explain their cases at trial.
Make sure to provide the court with records of your tenant’s violations, lease agreement, and the notices. Present substantial documentation to prove that the tenant’s eviction is warranted.
In most cases, proceedings for an eviction typically takes about one hour. If the defendant mounts a significant defense, the case could take much longer.
Step 7. After the Court Process
If the tenant wins at the trial, the tenant gets to stay, and the landlord may have to pay the tenant’s court fees. If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the judge will issue a Judgment of Possession. Then you will fill out and have the clerk issue a Writ of Execution for the sheriff. The tenant then must voluntarily vacate within five days. If the tenant does not vacate, you will take the Writ to the Sheriff’s office to physically lock the tenant out of the rental property.
California law has made it illegal for the landlord to evict the tenant personally or without the Writ of Execution from the court or not having a sheriff present during the eviction.
If the tenant leaves behind any personal items, the landlord must first try to notify the tenant and give the tenant at least 15 days to reclaim it. If 15 days have gone by and nothing happens, the landlord can charge the tenant for storing the property, and if he doesn’t show up to claim it, then the landlord may sell or dispose of them. (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1980–1991).
Evicting a tenant in California is a long and complicated process. Consequently, there are common mistakes that could get your case thrown out from the court. Hire a competent attorney to help make sure that you’re not violating any laws.