In California law, landlords must follow a series of steps to evict a tenant legally. The eviction process involves all of the following:
- Give your tenants notice
- File forms with the court
- Serve the notice to the tenant
- Tenant either responds or doesn’t
- Final court hearing
- Evict tenant & reclaim possession
There are exact requirements to end a tenancy with different procedures required for different situations. This article provides an overview for the landlords to follow for the eviction process. In some communities with rent control ordinances, additional rules in terminating a tenancy may be imposed.
1. Unable to pay rent after receiving a notice
Tenants cannot be evicted unlawfully in the state of California. However, a landlord has the right to evict a tenant after failing to pay rent on time.
In California’s housing law, the rent is considered late the day after its due date. There is a grace period stipulated in the rental/lease agreement that every tenant must understand.
The landlord can issue a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit if the tenants failed to pay the rent, which is already past due.
In the eviction notice, there must be no other late fees or interest rates included. Only if the tenants failed to pay the rent after he/she received the notice, then the landlord may continue with the eviction process.
2. Violating the rental lease agreement
Your tenants signed a rental lease agreement and must uphold their responsibilities under the terms of the agreement.
If your tenants violate any terms and conditions in their lease agreement, you can issue a 3-Day Notice to Cure Violations or Move Out to resolve the issues and avoid eviction.
Here are examples of tenant violations:
- property damage
- owning a pet if it’s not allowed
- exceeding the number of residents allowed
Take note that illegal activity would not fall into another category.
The landlord may proceed with the eviction process after their tenants failed to comply with the compliance notice.
3. Repeated intentional damages or violations
If the tenants committed serious repeat violations, the landlord could issue a Three-Day Unconditional Notice to Quit and need to move out of the unit three days after receiving the notice.
The tenants will not be given time to resolve the issues. The landlord can file an eviction lawsuit if they remain in the property after three days of asking to move out.
The reasons to issue a notice to quit to tenants are the following:
- involved in illegal activities within the premises
- created severe trouble at the rental unit
- caused irreparable or material damage to the property
- assigned the rental unit to another person or sublet in the unit, both of which violates the rental agreement
4. The tenants have no lease, or the lease ended
In California, landlords in rent-controlled cities cannot terminate a tenancy without probable cause. But in all other areas, if the tenants stay in the property after the lease term has expired, the landlord may pursue an eviction process.
Filing a Complaint
1. How to File a Complaint
After finding a probable cause for the eviction process, the landlord can file a complaint in court to evict his/her tenants. In California, the filing fees range from $385-$435 and an additional $40 for a Writ of Execution issuance.
Serving the Tenant
1. How to Serve a Tenant
Anyone who is at least 18 years old and not part of the case can serve the tenant with the complaint within 60 days of filing, or the case could be dismissed.
The landlords can serve the Summons and Complaint through the following ways:
- Personal Service: The server gives the tenant the Summons and Complaint in person.
- Substituted Service: If the tenant is not around, the server can give the court papers to any competent member of the household. The server must also mail a copy to the tenant at the same address.
- Posting and Mailing: The landlord can only use this service only if the court gives permission. The server can post a copy of the Summons and Complaint on the visible part of the property. Then, the landlord will mail another copy to the tenant’s last known address.
The best method to legally serve your tenant is to either send them a letter by certified mail or from a process server directly serving them in person.
2. After Serving the Summons and Complaint
The tenants will be given a chance to respond after receiving a copy of the summons and complaint.
The landlords must serve the complaint within 60 days, or the court will dismiss the eviction action.
Asking for Possession
1. Filing a Motion to Obtain Judgment and get a Judgment for Possession
Before you can evict your tenant, you have to wait for the legally required “answer period,” which can be anywhere from 5-15 days. If the tenant didn’t respond to your eviction complaints, you would win the case and get a default judgment.
If the tenant didn’t respond, the landlord has a few options:
- The landlord can ask for a default judgment without a hearing, which can take anywhere from a few days to weeks, depending on the judicial officer’s schedule.
- The landlord can get an immediate order of possession from the clerk of the court office. This is only applicable if the landlord is not asking for money back.
These two options will not allow the tenants to defend their case if they appeal to remain in the rental unit.
2. Next procedure if the tenant disagreed and replied
Tenants have five business days to respond and another ten days for delivery by mail to complete the 15 days to respond before the hearing process.
Upon receiving the tenants’ response, the landlord will file a request for a hearing in court. The hearing will be scheduled within twenty days after the hearing request was made.
1. After the landlord wins the case
If the landlord wins the case, the judge will issue a Writ of Execution so that the eviction process will take place.
The Writ of Execution is the last notice that the tenants will receive. They need to remove their belongings before the sheriff removes them by force.
The Writ of Execution may be issued on the same day of the hearing upon request, or it may take up to several days to receive.
The tenants can appeal to extend their stay up to 40 days and file for a Stay of Execution. If the court grants their request, they will be given the grace period of 40 days to move out. They have to comply, or failure to do so may result in forced eviction by the property sheriff.
2. Move out process
After the Writ of Execution has been served to the tenants, they will be given a grace period of 5 days to vacate the property. The sheriff will execute the eviction and forcibly remove them if they remain in the property after the grace period given to them.
The tenants have to move out within five days after they have received the Writ of Execution.
California Eviction Timeline
Here is an average timeline for evicting a tenant legally in California. If the tenant contests in court, it will extend the timeline.
1. How to keep good records
If the tenant disagrees with the request to begin the eviction process and they reply to the court, it’s important that you keep extremely good records of everything so you can provide proof to the judge and win your case. Without this kind of proof, it could be very difficult for you to prove your case and win. This part can make or break your entire eviction request in the event of a dispute.
You can stay organized by:
- Keeping a physical paper trail - This gets VERY hard to search through, takes up a lot of storage space, and could get lost, damaged, stolen, or burnt in a fire.
- Scanning documents - Scan every document into your computer. A great scanner is the Brother ADS-1700W for under $200 or the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 for $400.
- Backups - Store and backup every file using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other option that is easily searchable. This could be a lot more useful and efficient compared to the physical paper trail.
- PMS - Use a property management software to save everything from lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and anything you can imagine. This is used best when you also scan every document into your software.
2. Evidence to show for not paying rent
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, and they dispute that claim, it’s important that you show the judge the following:
- Your lease agreement - Showing the terms of the agreement, when rent is due, and any penalties for late payment.
- All payments - Showing all previous payments, how they were normally made (check, credit card, ACH, etc…), and what date they were normally paid on.
- Any payment returns - If their check bounced, their bank account had insufficient funds, or they did a chargeback dispute on their credit card, show this to the Judge. Also show any fees your bank may have charged you, and any penalties you are owed according to your lease agreement.
- All messages - If you sent your tenant automated or manual payment reminders by text, email, a letter, or mail, it’s important to show this. While it’s usually not needed, it’s still good to show that they were aware of the situation and were given time to cure and make payment. This is why it’s always best to have everything in writing instead of any phone calls or face-to-face meetings.
3. Evidence to show for lease violations
If you are evicting the tenant for lease violations, for example, noise complaints, unauthorized pets, or property damages, it’s important to show proof from any of the following methods:
- Security Cameras - If you have a surveillance system that can show them committing the crime or lease violation, it’s safe to say you will normally win this dispute.
- Video - If you didn’t catch them in the act, the next best thing is to record a video with your phone of any damages or the lease violation.
- Pictures - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture could be worth thousands of dollars! Even if you take a video, it’s important to show the Judge any pictures too as it’s usually easier to see by email or printed.
- Lease Terms - Once again, show the court which term they violated in their lease agreement. Don’t worry if you don’t have every single term spelled out in your rental agreement. If the violation is bad enough, it might not be needed to have it written. As a good practice though, start adding all of the potential reasons to evict a tenant into your agreement, potentially for future situations with similar violations.
Which eviction methods are considered illegal?
- If the property has violations in habitability laws, meaning the property is not in a habitable condition to live in, and the tenant refuses to pay rent because it’s not a livable space.
- If it is a Retaliatory Eviction, the landlord illegally evicts the tenant to complain about the property. It is also considered illegal to evict if the tenants join, organize, or support a tenants’ union.
Can I force a tenant to move out in California?
No. California law requires the landlord to issue a written notice according to state law before legally terminating the tenancy. The landlords cannot force to evict the tenants without due process.
What is a self-help eviction?
Examples of illegal “self-help” evictions include changing the locks, taking the tenant’s belongings, removing the front door, or turning off the heat or electricity, but this can also be many different things. Many states specify how much money a tenant can sue for if the landlord has tried to illegally evict the tenant through some sort of self-help measure. Some state laws also provide for tenant's court costs and attorneys' fees (if the tenant successfully sues the landlord) and/or give the tenant the right to stay in the rental unit.
What are the potential penalties for a self-help eviction?
According to California Civil Code, you may be liable for Tenant’s Court Costs & Attorneys’ Fees. The statute also gives the tenant the right to stay.
A tenant can sue you for actual damages plus violations. Tenants may ask for an injunction prohibiting any further violation during the court action.