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Landlord’s Guide to Eviction Process in California

Updated on May 26, 2016

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Why is Eviction Necessary?

Eviction is one of the remedies any landlord may use in order to enforce the rules of a lease. However, this can be a costly and time-consuming process, and both landlords and tenants have rights under the law that will apply.

Evicting under California law is more difficult than in some other states, so make sure you know what to do and how to do it properly.

California Courts Video on the Eviction Process

Can You Evict Your Tenant?

Under certain circumstances, landlords may begin eviction proceedings against a tenant within their rights. These are:

  • Failure to pay the rent
  • Violation of any provision of the lease
  • Damage to rental property
  • Interference with or causing a significant nuisance to other tenants or subtenants
  • Engaging in drug dealing; using, cultivating, importing, or manufacturing illegal drugs
  • Using the building or property for an unlawful purpose
  • Unlawful conduct involving weapons or ammunition

Please note that the violation must have already occurred before the first notice is sent out. For example, if rent is overdue (the most common reason for eviction), the grace period following the due date must have expired.

If your tenant is on a month-to-month lease, however, he or she can be terminated without cause, as long as the tenant has received 30 or 60 day advance notice in a written form. If a tenant does not voluntarily move out after receiving notice, you may then begin eviction proceedings.

Also, check your city’s rules for more restrictive considerations. Some local municipalities with rent control, for example, require that there is “just cause” or limit the allowable reasons for eviction.

Read more about California Tenants rights on the Department of Consumer Affairs Website.

Did You Know? - The Ellis Act

The Ellis Act, a California State Eviction Law, states that a Landlord can Evict a Tenant by Delivering a 120 Day Notice (or a Year for Senior Aged Residents) With the Reasoning Being the Landlord is Leaving the Property Rental Business.
The Ellis Act, a California State Eviction Law, states that a Landlord can Evict a Tenant by Delivering a 120 Day Notice (or a Year for Senior Aged Residents) With the Reasoning Being the Landlord is Leaving the Property Rental Business.
Under California Law, a Landlord Must Serve a Tenant an Eviction notice of 3, 30, 60, or 90 Days, Depending on the Circumstance of the Case.
Under California Law, a Landlord Must Serve a Tenant an Eviction notice of 3, 30, 60, or 90 Days, Depending on the Circumstance of the Case.

Steps of the California Eviction Process

Step 1: Serving the Eviction Notice

The first step in the eviction process is to compose and deliver an eviction letter. In California, a standard eviction notice should give the tenant 30, 60, or 90 day notice. With this type of eviction notice, you do not need to outline a reason for the eviction.

A written three-day eviction notice is another remedy available to you, but requires that you give a reason. This type of notice can only be utilized under the circumstances listed above under “Can You Evict?” A three-day notice requires either that the tenant leave the premises, or correct the violation. If correcting the violation is possible, this option must be given to the tenant.

When you compose a letter, make sure to include:

  • your contact information
  • the type of violation
  • a statement as to how it can be remedied in the time allotted
  • the date of the eviction.

Either deliver it personally, or send it in a way that informs you when the tenant receives it (such as certified mail). Don't forget to keep a copy for yourself. You may wish to have an eviction specialist or legal representative look it over before you send it.

You must serve an eviction notice in writing, and your tenant is entitled to respond in court. The letter / notice is the first step in the eviction process, so it is an important document. Wait three business days after the letter is served before moving on to the next step, if it is needed.

Step 2: File A Civil Case and Serve Papers

If a tenant is still reluctant to work with you on a solution, going to court is the only legal possibility at this point. You will want to file several documents with the county courthouse in which the property lies.

  • An Unlawful Detainer Complaint. This is basically a fancy name for an eviction lawsuit. This limited document sets forth the details of the case (parties, property, monetary harm, circumstances, and relief requested) and outlines the steps you have taken to date. It includes a copy of the eviction notice and a copy of the original rental agreement.

  • Civil Case Cover Sheet. This form is required to initiate all civil proceedings.

  • Prejudgment Claim of Right to Possession. In a nutshell, this document makes it impossible for a third party (an unregistered, unauthorized tenant of the property) to claim possession of the property and delay the proceedings. This is something that should be done if a landlord suspects that there are unknown occupants on the property.

Once you’ve submitted these, the County Clerk will provide you with a Summons. This is a document that establishes jurisdiction and requires the tenant to respond within five days. At this point, you must have copies of the Summons and Complaint served to the tenant. This task should be given to a registered process server, a professional who has experience in how this can be done, if at all possible.

In California, Eviction Cases are Decided by Either a Judge or Jury. Either Party - Landlord or Tenant - Can Request a Jury Trial to Decide Their Eviction Case.
In California, Eviction Cases are Decided by Either a Judge or Jury. Either Party - Landlord or Tenant - Can Request a Jury Trial to Decide Their Eviction Case.

Step 3: Continue the Civil Case and Abide By the Ruling of the Court

Now, you must wait and see what develops. Here are some of the possible outcomes:

  • If the tenant doesn’t answer within five days, you can get a default judgment from the court. If this happens, you need to submit a form called Request for Entry of Default. This will require you to declare the method and date of delivery of the above documents under.

  • If the tenant challenges the eviction with a form called the Answer, the trial takes place within 21 days after that. A trial will be decided either by a judge or jury; you and the tenant both have the option to request a jury trial. If you do this, you need to file the Request to Set Case for Trial and be prepared to pay jury fees to the court. You should also retain a lawyer to present your side of the case and represent you in the settlement conference that precedes it.

If you win the eviction case either due to default or as the result of a trail, the tenant must leave the property within five days, (you need to store any left-behind items for two weeks) or be removed by law enforcement, and you may be awarded financial compensation. You will receive a Writ of Possession from the court. When you take this form to local law enforcement, they can act to enforce the eviction.

If the tenant wins, then the tenant can stay and you may have to pay court fees. However, you may ask that the tenant be ordered to pay rent that is owed to you.

California Eviction Process Flowchart


Post-Judgment of your California Eviction Case

Following the case’s ending, it may still be possible for the tenant to enter some post-judgment claims that may alter the result.

For example, a member of the military may utilize special rules designed to help him or her, or a tenant with severe financial hardship may appeal to the court for relief of forfeiture of the tenancy. In general, however, the judgment ends the process.

The eviction process in California can take some time, but is designed to help landlords and tenants resolve conflicts in a legal way.

If you’re considering evicting a tenant, you should weigh the merits of the case and decide if you are willing and able to see this process through to its conclusion, no matter what the outcome, and be ready follow the dictates of California’s law as well as its court system.


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    • profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      Thank you for reaching Michael & Sumona. Michael, it's always a tough situation when you have to evict a tenant. You never want to have to put someone out on the streets but on the other hand you need responsible people in your rental property who won't damage the property and its value. Thanks again for reading!

    • Sumona Ireen profile image

      Sumona Ireen 

      5 years ago from New York, US

      This is a very good and informative hub. I wish scribologist will write like this good hub in future. best of luck

    • Michael Kismet profile image

      Michael Kismet 

      5 years ago from Northern California

      My step-father owned lots of rental property, and he was horrible at evicting people, only cause he had a big heart. When it came down to kicking a family out on the streets, he just couldn't do it.. A very interesting article nonetheless, thank you for sharing your expertise on the matter.


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