What is the evictions process in California?

Whether you’re a landlord wondering how to get rid of a troublesome tenant or a tenant questioning a landlord’s actions against you, this blog will help you understand the procedures set in place in the state of California to govern and guide evictions.


The Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit

First, no eviction can take place unless the landlord has given ample notice and the tenant has not moved out voluntarily. To begin the process, the landlord issues the tenant with an eviction notice. The tenant then usually has 3, 30, 60 or 90 days to comply, depending on the type of notice that was served.Should the tenant fail to comply, the landlord then moves on to the next step, which is to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit – and this is the key to the entire process.


Unlawful detainer lawsuits are summary court procedures that enable swift movement and action. The time given to the tenant to respond to the suit is very short. In most cases, the tenant has only five days to file a written response after being served. A judge will then hear the case within 20 days if the tenant contests the lawsuit.


The Superior Court

The Superior Court of the State of California administers the eviction process to ensure that tenants have the right to a court hearing if he/she disputes the landlord’s case. According to the state’s eviction laws, the landlord must proceed with an unlawful detainer lawsuit and may not use self-help measures such as locking the tenant out, cutting off utilities, seizing the tenant’s belongings or physically removing the tenant. Landlords may be liable for damages and penalties if they choose to take any of these routes.


If the tenant contests the eviction, the court holds a trial in which both the tenant and landlord can present their cases. Often, if the landlord has taken the trouble to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit, chances are that their case is legitimate and the tenant often has little defense against the suit. Sometimes an unscrupulous tenant who does not have a legitimate response will use the court system to buy time by filing any number of frivolous motions that can halt the eviction proceedings. In the case of any contest, genuine or otherwise, the landlord has few options open to him other than requesting a trial.


If the court finds in the landlord’s favor, it will support and enforce the intention to evict the tenant. It will issue a writ of possession ordering the sheriff to remove the tenant and lock him/her out. The landlord is not permitted to retake possession of the property until the sheriff has removed the tenant and turned possession back over to the landlord. On the other hand, if it finds in the tenant’s favor, it will not allow the eviction to proceed and may order the landlord to pay court costs.


For more information on the legal issues and requirements around evictions – either from the point of view of the tenant or the landlord – contact The Law Office of Stephen M. Beckwith, an experienced evictions attorney specializing in all areas of business law. Serving as an evictions lawyer in Santa Rosa for more than 27 years, The Law Office of Stephen M. Beckwith is well equipped to handle any matter relating to evictions, including new changes in the law (Assembly Bill 1482 effective January 1, 2010), notice changes, rent increases, and rent rollback.