The ABCs of Evictions in California: What Every Landlord Should Know
It’s often perceived that California has one of the most protracted and intricate procedures for evicting tenants. A study in 2018 revealed that landlords annually file an average of 160,000 eviction cases that households face in court.
Many perceive that to legally evict a tenant, a landlord must navigate a labyrinth of complex procedures; the perception is that overlooking even one step could invalidate the entire eviction process. However, we believe that with proper knowledge and preparation, these procedures can be straightforward and manageable. We aim to demystify and simplify the eviction process, showing that, when approached correctly, it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it seems.
This article explores the concept of eviction, the circumstances under which evictions are permissible, the standard eviction procedures in California, strategies landlords can employ to circumvent evictions, and provides guidance on what landlords can do to ensure the expedited eviction of non-paying tenants.
Eviction is the legal process by which a landlord may request a tenant to voluntarily vacate the property or, if they refuse, may remove them following a legal process.
According to California’s eviction procedures, a landlord must provide the tenant with a written notice to terminate the tenancy and request them to vacate the property willingly. If the tenant refuses, landlords can initiate an unlawful detainer suit to have them removed forcibly.
In what circumstances are evictions allowed?
Evictions are allowed in case the tenant is “at fault”. If tenant does one of the following, you can evict the tenant:
- Fails to pay rent
- Intentionally damages the property
- Breaches the lease’s provisions
- Continues to stay in the property after the lease expires
- Commits a crime on the leased property
- Being a nuisance to other tenants and continues to do so despite repeated requests to quit
You can also evict the tenant even if the tenant is not “at fault”. Here are some reasons:
- Owner wants to move in
- Intent to demolish or substantially remodel the property
- Withdrawal of the unit from the rental market
- The owner wants to comply to a government order or local law
What’s the general procedure for evictions in California?
Here is the general procedure for evictions in California:
1. Post the notice
The first step in the eviction process in California is for the landlord to post an initial notice to the tenant explaining the reasons for eviction. The number of days in the notice to end tenancy depends on the conduct of the tenant.
If the tenant is at fault, you can give them three days’ notice. Note that you must give the tenant a fair chance to rectify the breach, and if they fail to do it, require them to vacate. However, if it’s something unfixable, give the three days’ notice to vacate, failure to which you can institute a lawsuit to have them evicted.
The rules change if you need the tenant to vacate the home through no fault of their own, say you want to move into the house. In that case, give them a 30 days notice to end the tenancy (if they are a month-to-month tenant for less than a year) or a 60-day notice if they have resided in the unit for over a year.
For fixed-term tenants, give a 3-day notice to cure a breach or desist from committing a violation if the tenant is at fault (at-fault reason). If the tenant fails to comply, you must give them a 3-day unconditional notice to file a lawsuit. In cases where the tenant has done no wrong (no-fault reason), you must compensate the tenant.
2. File an eviction lawsuit
The landlord may file court action if a tenant fails to comply with the terms of the notice by the specified date. In California, you refer to this type of eviction suit as an “Unlawful Detainer Complaint.”
3. Serve the tenant with Court Documents
After filing the lawsuit, the landlord must serve the tenant with a copy of the summons and complaint. This can be done by a registered process server, a sheriff, or any person over 18 who is not a party to the action.
4. Tenant’s response
The tenant can challenge the lawsuit in court by filing a “response” within five or fifteen business days, depending on the method of service of summons and complaints.
A tenant’s response could take the form of a move challenging the legitimacy of the notice, a motion answering the complaints, or a motion challenging the method of service. If the tenant responds, either party may request a trial date in which the court will render a verdict.
However, if the tenant does not respond by the due date, you may file a motion for default judgment. In this instance, the court would rule in your favor without hearing the tenant.
The court clerk will schedule the court date, and you must present sufficient evidence that the tenant is at fault and that you followed all eviction procedures and delivered all the required court documents to the tenant (Proof of Service).
5. Court Hearing
If the tenant responds, the court will schedule a hearing. Both parties must attend and present their case. If the landlord wins, the court will issue a judgment in the landlord’s favor, and the tenant will have to move out.
If you win the lawsuit, the judge will issue an eviction order, which allows you to legally remove the tenant from the premises. You will receive a Writ of Execution to begin the eviction procedure.
6. Schedule a Lockout with Sheriff
You have no power to remove a tenant. Ask the sheriff to serve the Writ of Execution to the tenants. The recipient must leave the home within five days of receiving the Writ of Execution.
If the tenant leaves behind some property, you must notify them to reclaim their belongings within 15 days (verbally) or 18 days’ notice if sent by mail. You can dispose of the property if the tenant does not claim the property after the expiration of the notice.
What are some of the ways evictions can be avoided?
The tenant’s only recourse if the landlord has valid reasons to execute eviction is to fix the breach of the lease. For instance, if the renter faces eviction because of unpaid rent, they should rectify the situation by making the payments within the notice period.
However, if a landlord uses the eviction process to retaliate against tenants exercising their rights, the tenant may claim retaliatory eviction as a defense.
Another way tenants can avoid eviction is by seeking housing assistance from the local county housing authority. In some instances, the authority may pay backdated rents to prevent eviction and may continue to offer monthly assistance, paying a portion of the rent directly to the landlord. We experienced this with our Rosamond property; a tenant secured assistance at the last minute, enabling us to recover the entire unpaid rent from the county housing authority. Here is the list of the websites for all housing authorities by county in California – https://www.hud.gov/states/california/renting/hawebsites
Other ways evicting tenants in timely manner
Understandably, you may want to avoid the legal eviction process as it is costly and time-consuming. So, here are some actions you can take to ensure timely evictions of non-paying tenants:
Cash for key
It is one of the most efficient methods, as it offers financial incentives to difficult tenants to move out. Providing cash to a problematic tenant may seem odd, but it is preferable to dragging the matter out in court. For a more detailed explanation of cash for keys read this article.
A simple request for tenants to vacate the premises may be all you need to get them to move out without resorting to eviction, especially if you are on good terms with the tenant. If not, you can try to explain to the tenant the consequences of evictions, such as a blemish to their credit score and rental history.
A landlord can also let their tenants know they are willing to help them move out, whether through a connection to other local landlords, a discount on moving costs, access to moving trucks and labor, or anything else. The landlord can renegotiate a shorter lease term if they assure the tenant that they would do what they can to make their move easier.
There’s a perception that eviction in California is exceedingly difficult and cumbersome. However, our experience has been different. When laws are followed, the procedure is straightforward, and tenants in arrears will be compelled to leave. Additionally, there are numerous methods to expedite eviction without resorting to a lawsuit, as previously described. These insights are drawn from our experiences with multiple evictions across various counties in California.