Evicting a tenant is an unfortunate part of being a landlord. The eviction process is time-consuming and often times costly. But sometimes, it’s the only way to get rid of a troublesome tenant.
In California, the law requires you to legally terminate a tenancy before evicting a renter. This means “self-help” evictions should not be practiced. You must follow California’s eviction process. Even if the tenant is months behind on rent, without a court order, you cannot:
- Change the locks;
- Remove outside windows or doors;
- Cut off the utilities, like water or electricity;
- Lock the renter out;
- Get rid of the tenant’s personal property; or worse of all
- Physically remove the tenant.
What’s the Eviction Process in California? Well, Here’s a Guide.
The Rationale for the Rules
When evicting a tenant in California, landlords must carefully follow all the rules and procedures required under the state’s rental laws. If not, the eviction lawsuit may fail. While the eviction process can seem burdensome to you, the rules and procedures are there for a reason.
Notice for Lease Termination with Legal Cause
A California landlord can evict a renter for various reasons. Such reasons include:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Property damage
- Violation of the terms of the lease agreement
- “Holdover” tenant
- Illegal use of the property
- Illegal drug manufacturing
- Causing significant disturbance to other neighbors and tenants
Prior to terminating the tenancy, you must first serve the tenant with an eviction notice.
The type of eviction notice used is determined by the reason for the termination. Generally, there are three types of eviction notices given in California. They are:
- 3-Day Notice to pay due rent. This notice gives the renter two options: to pay or leave. If the tenant doesn’t act within three days, then you can file an eviction lawsuit against them in court.
- 3-Day Unconditional Quit Notice. Unlike the first notice, this one doesn’t give the tenant an option to remedy the lease violation. It simply requires the tenant to leave. If the renter doesn’t leave within three days, then you can file an eviction lawsuit against them in court.
- 3-Day Notice to Cure. This notice gives a tenant three days to correct a lease violation. For example, to cease causing disturbance to other tenants. If the tenant doesn’t do so within three days, you can file an eviction lawsuit against them in court.
Notice for Lease Termination Without Legal Cause
Without a cause, procedures for terminating a lease depend on the length of the tenancy. If it’s a monthly lease, the landlord-tenant laws in California require you give the tenant a 30-day notice to end their tenancy.
If the term of the lease is fixed, you must wait until the lease period is over to end the tenancy. Both notices must inform the renter that you won’t be renewing their lease for another term.
Tenant Eviction Defenses in California
A defense is a reason why you (the petitioner) shouldn’t win the case. A tenant may claim;
- You waited far too long to file the lawsuit against them
- You refused to take rent
- Monthly rent being requested isn’t the one on the lease agreement
- You overcharged the rent
- The property wasn’t habitable
Removal of the Tenant
If the renter fails to act on an eviction notice within the time specified, you can go to the court and file an unlawful detainer suit. To successfully file the lawsuit, you will require the following forms.
First, you need an unlawful detainer complaint, a civil case cover sheet, and a prejudgment right of possession form.
Next, you will need to serve the tenant with the summons and compliant. In California, the tenant has five business days to file a “response” to the court to challenge the lawsuit.
If the tenant doesn’t respond, then you may win by default. In California, if the tenant does respond, then they have the right to a hearing date.
At the hearing date, the judge will give both you and the renter a chance to present your cases. As such, you should collect as much evidence as possible. For example, records of violations, eviction notices, and the lease agreement.
If you win, then the court will issue you with a Writ of Possession. This document gives the sheriff the power to forcefully evict the tenant out of your California property if they fail to move out voluntarily within five days after the judgment.
Depending on the circumstances and the lease agreement provisions, the court may also order the renter to pay a $600 penalty, attorney fees, and any unpaid rent.
Sometimes, the renter may leave some personal belongings behind. In some municipalities, you may need to notify your renter of the items. In others, though, you may sell or dispose of them.
The California eviction process isn’t as easy as just telling your tenant to vacate your property. You must follow a certain defined process. Hopefully, this guide has been informational in this regard.
If you have specific questions, hire the services of a qualified California attorney. Alternatively, you can seek help from a knowledgeable property management company.