Unlawful Detainer (Eviction)
Eviction cases are called an "unlawful detainer" in court. An unlawful detainer lawsuit is the civil process a landlord can use to remove a tenant from his or her rental property
and regain possession of the property from the tenant. In California, a landlord may be able to evict a tenant if the tenant:
- Fails to pay the rent on time;
- Breaks the lease or rental agreement and will not fix the problem (like keeping your cat when pets are not allowed);
- Damages the property, bringing down the value (commits "waste");
- Becomes a serious nuisance by disturbing other tenants and neighbors even after being asked to stop; or
- Uses the property to do something illegal.
In most cities, the landlord can also evict the tenant:
- If the tenant stays after the lease is up, or
- If the landlord cancels the rental agreement by giving proper notice.
Other types of legal disputes between landlords and tenants are generally handled in small claims court, such as disputes regarding the return of a security deposit.
A landlord cannot evict someone themselves
A landlord cannot evict someone themselves without going through the proper steps. It is against the law. Only the Sheriff can evict someone. Even if a tenant is months behind on the rent, the landlord cannot:
- Make the tenant move out
- Get rid of the tenant’s possessions
- Lock the tenant out
- Cut off the water or electricity
- Remove outside windows or doors
To legally evict the tenant through the process of an Unlawful Detainer, the landlord typically has to:
- Serve the tenant with the appropriate written notice (there are several types of notices, and the one a landlord serves the tenant with must be appropriate to the specific case circumstances)
- Wait for the time period in the notice to end
- File an Unlawful Detainer action if the tenant does not do what the notice asks
An Unlawful Detainer case is fast. Usually, the tenant has 5 days to file a response. If an Answer is filed, trial is 20 days after that.
- Where To File
- Court Reporting Services
- Unlawful Detainer Guide: Department of Real Estate
- California Courts Self-Help Center – Step by Step Eviction Information