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California eviction process

Last updated: May 05, 2015

What’s the deal with evictions in California?

As the tech hub of the country, it’s no secret that San Francisco has seen an influx of new residents–and an unreal surge in living costs. For a lot of landlords, this landscape is the perfect opportunity to grow their business and offer great rental properties to a variety of new tenants.

But then there are some other landlords who have used something called the Ellis Act to their advantage in this booming market. In San Francisco, this allows landlords to evict all of their tenants and turn the property into condominiums. Under this law, a landlord must effectively “go out of business”–a situation that allows them to evict all of their rental tenants before converting the apartments to condominiums or using the building for another purpose.

Proceed with caution: Many Ellis Act cases have been taken to court lately, with tenants winning a number of them.

This isn’t the only reason you may need to evict a tenant in the state of California. Regardless, you’ll want to be sure you follow all procedures carefully, as one slip-up could cost you in time, legal fees, and headaches.

What are some reasons I can evict a tenant?

The state of California recognizes a number of reasons for an eviction, including:

  • Failure to pay rent
  • Damage to the property
  • Violating terms of the rental contract
  • Remaining on the property after the lease is up
  • Illegal uses of the property including drug use, production, or sales
  • Being a nuisance to other tenants
  • The end of a month-to-month tenancy

Are there situations in which I cannot evict a tenant?

  • Tenants cannot be evicted as a retaliatory move if they called a health inspector or agency, or exercised their rights in any other way.
  • If the property violates the laws of habitability.

What is the eviction process normally like?

Eviction cases in the State of California must be seen by a judge, who will ultimately decide who is in the right. That said, it’s critically important to be meticulous in your paperwork to ensure that there aren’t any slip-ups–this will save you in the end.

Don’t forget that “self-help” evictions are illegal. Trying to evict a tenant by changing the locks, turning off the utilities, attempting to physically remove them before a court makes a decision, removing doors or windows, or removing a tenant’s possessions is illegal and will result in the dismissal of your eviction case.

If, after attempting to work out payment or settle a disagreement with a tenant, you decide to proceed with an eviction, the procedure must be followed closely:

  1. Serve the tenant with a legal, written notice to leave the property. A 3-day notice to quit in California is acceptable for all complaints for a tenant with a lease, whether it’s unpaid rent or a nuisance complaint. For month-to-month tenants, 30 days’ notice is required.
  2. If the tenant doesn’t leave the property voluntarily within 3 days, an eviction will proceed to court in what is called an unlawful detainer lawsuit. After you file your Summons & Complaint at the court and serve the tenant with papers, the tenant has 5 days to respond. Papers must be handed to the tenant by you or another responsible party over the age of 18.
  3. If the tenant does not respond within 3 days, the court will likely make a judgment in your favor. If the tenant does respond by filing the proper legal documentation with the Clerk of the Court, the case will proceed to a hearing.
  4. During the hearing, the court will decide if the tenant has a good defense or not. If they decide in favor of the tenant, they will not evict them, and the landlord may be ordered to pay court costs and attorney fees.
  5. If they decide in favor of the landlord, the court will issue a writ of possession. This orders a sheriff to remove the tenant from the property, or gives them 5 days to do it themselves. The court may also award the landlord any unpaid rent, damages, attorney’s fees, and up to $600 as a penalty fee if they find that the tenant acted maliciously. This will be reflected on the tenant’s credit report for seven years.
  6. After the writ of possession is awarded, by the end of the 5th day, the sheriff is legally able to lock the tenant out and seize any property within the unit. The landlord is not entitled to possession of the unit until after the tenant and their property are removed.
  7. If applicable, the tenant or the landlord have the right to file an appeal. In the meantime, the tenant must still leave the property if ordered to by the court.

Are there exceptions to the rules?

Military members (and/or their dependents) may be able to delay an eviction for up to 90 days, if their ability to pay the rent is affected by their military service. The judge can adjust the terms of the stay at their discretion. Landlords that violate court-ordered eviction proceedings may face up to a year in jail or have to pay a fine.

A tenant who can prove extreme hardship may be able to convince the court to allow them to stay on the property. This can be done even if the tenancy has ended and/or the court has decided in favor of the landlord in the unlawful detainer lawsuit.

Where can I learn more?

If you have any questions, or think you may want to begin the eviction process in California, please consult a lawyer.


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Disclaimer: The materials on this database provide general information related to the law and are intended to provide a layman’s summary of the law. The information provided does not constitute legal advice and the manager of this database is not a law firm. These materials are intended, but cannot be promised or guaranteed to be current, complete or up-to-date. All of the information offered are intended for general informational purposes only. You should not act or rely on any of the information contained on this database without first seeking the advice of a qualified attorney.

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