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How to evict a tenant in California

As landlords, sometimes our tenants are heaven-sent. They pay rent on time. They keep the property nice and tidy and follow all of our rules and guidelines. Then there are those tenants who seem to have been plucked from the pit of hell. Rent due dates mean nothing to them. They smoke in the house and are always way too loud.

If you have the misfortune of having one those hard to handle tenants, sometimes things get so bad that you’re forced to consider eviction. While the eviction process is somewhat similar throughout the United States, California’s process is distinct.

California law requires that landlords go through the court system if they wish to evict a tenant. The process is time-consuming, leaves little room for error, and can be costly should you desire to hire an attorney, so we hope that this article will help you avoid having to retain legal help. Here’s how to evict a tenant in the state of California.

Step 1: Ensure that you have a valid reason for evicting your tenant.

Under California law, a tenant can be evicted under any of the following circumstances:

  1. The tenant fails to pay rent
  2. The tenant violates one or more of the terms on the rental agreement
  3. The tenant damages the property and the damage lowers the property value
  4. The tenant becomes a nuisance to neighbors
  5. The tenant uses the property improperly (i.e. sets up a commercial business, sells drugs, etc.)
  6. The tenant fails to vacate the property after the lease has expired

Step 2: Provide the tenant with an eviction notice.

If the grounds for eviction are a failure to pay rent, you should then serve the tenant with a 3-day pay or quit notice. This notice officially informs the tenant that they have three days to pay the outstanding rent. If they fail to pay, you can then start taking steps toward eviction.

Serving the tenant the eviction notice means that you must personally hand the notice to the tenant, or if they refuse to take it, leave it on the ground near the person. You may also leave the notice with a person over 18-years-old at the tenant’s residence or workplace, and then mail a copy to the tenant. You can also post a copy on the tenant’s door, and then mail a copy of the pay or quit to the tenant as well.

Evicted tenant

Step 3: Wait for the tenant to rectify the situation.

Depending on what type of notice you’ve served, you’ll have to allow a certain amount of time for that notice to expire. If you served a pay or quit, you have to give the tenant three days to pay. If the tenant has stayed on the premises although the lease has already expired, you have to wait 30 days before you can proceed with filing a lawsuit.

Step 4: File an unlawful detainer action.

If the tenant fails to respond to your notice within the allotted time, proceed to file an unlawful detainer action. This is a formal complaint filed through the court system and requires the landlord to complete two (sometimes three) forms:

The Unlawful Detainer Complaint and the Civil Case Cover Sheet are to be submitted to the courthouse in the county where the rental property is located. Use the Prejudgment Claim of Right of Possession if a person who is not listed on the rental agreement is living in the unit and you need to evict them as well.

Because these files contain a fair amount of legal jargon and because it is of utmost importance that they are filled out accurately, you may choose to enlist the help of a lawyer or contact a website that prepares legal documents. At the very least, be sure to thoroughly do your research and ensure that the forms are accurate before submitting them to the courts.

Step 5: Serve the tenant.

You will need to serve the tenant with the complaint and summons. After the tenant has been served, file proof of service with the court. After the tenant has been served, he or she has five business days to respond to the lawsuit.

Step 6: Complete the court process.

The tenant may answer the complaints received, attack the sufficiency of the notice received, or attack the method of service. If the tenant does not respond within five days of being served, you can ask the court for a default judgment. You will have to provide evidence that you properly executed the steps in the eviction process.

If your evidence is sufficient, the judge will then give you a Writ of Possession. You can take this document to the Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff typically has three to 15 days to serve the tenant the Writ. After being served, the tenant has five days to vacate the property. After the notice expires, the Sheriff will return within six to 15 days and physically remove the tenants. At that point, the landlord can change the locks on the property.

If the tenant does answer the complaint, a trial date is set, typically between ten to 20 days of the tenant’s answer. Both parties will then be able to explain their cases to the judge. Be sure that you bring records of violations, notices, and the lease contract with you to court. If the judge rules in your favor, you will receive a Writ of Possession. You should then follow the instructions in the previous paragraph.

If the judge rules in the tenant’s favor, you will be granted “leave to amend.” This is a second opportunity to prove that you have a valid case. If you lose a second time, it’s best to seek help from an attorney.

Boxes of the evicted tenant

Step 7: Store the tenant’s belongings.

If the tenant leaves any belongings behind, research local ordinances in the county. Some require landlords to store the belongings for a set period of time while others give the landlord permission to sell or discard the belongings.

The eviction process is never an easy one, and California’s process is perhaps trickiest of all. Because obtaining professional guidance from a lawyer can be expensive, we hope that this article served as a valuable resource and taught you how to evict a tenant in California.

Author’s Bio:

Darlene Mase lives in Newnan, Georgia with her husband and daughter. She is a stay-at-home mom and works as a freelance writer for Zumper.com and other popular sites. During her free time, Darlene enjoys traveling, hiking, camping, cycling, gardening, caving, kayaking, or anything else outdoors.


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