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California Eviction Laws for Landlords

No one wants to go through an eviction, but it’s important for landlords (and tenants) to understand how the process works.

Mariah Birnbaum
Mariah Birnbaum

No one wants to go through an eviction, but it’s important for landlords (and tenants) to understand how the process works. Evictions do happen, and laws can vary significantly by state—just one clerical error can send an eviction back to square one, costing landlords time and money.

Landlords can prepare themselves for this possibility by familiarizing themselves with their local landlord-tenant laws to better understand their rights and responsibilities. Read on to find out what to expect as a landlord if you need to evict a tenant in California.

Related: What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A Landlord

Reasons for Eviction

Landlords are required to provide their tenants with specific types of notices depending on the reason for eviction. Landlords need to know the reasons you can (and can’t) evict a tenant, and the process for filing each kind of eviction. Common evictions reasons include:

Failure to Pay Rent

If a tenant misses a rent payment, including any grace periods you may have specified in the lease agreement, you can issue a notice informing the tenant to pay rent or move out of the rental unit.

Property Damage

A tenant can be evicted if they damage the landlord’s property, in or out of their rental unit. This is also referred to by the law as “committing waste”. It’s important to note that property damage goes beyond just normal wear and tear — the damage must be significant and intentional (or a result of tenant negligence).

Nuisance Behavior

Under California law, nuisance is defined as any conduct which unreasonably interferes with others’ rights to free use or enjoyment of private property. Excessively loud music, shouting, and persistent bad odors are all common nuisances which may disrupt other tenants. If after being notified that their behavior is a nuisance the tenant continues to engage in nuisance behavior, they may be lawfully evicted.

Illegal Activity

Illegal activity on a landlord’s private property is grounds for eviction. Tenants may be evicted for using or selling illicit drugs, operating a business out of a residence, or even if one of their guests engages in any illegal activity on the property.

Unauthorized Subletting

Tenants cannot sublet rooms of their rental unit without the express permission of their landlord unless otherwise specified in their lease or rental agreement. Unauthorized subletting is grounds for eviction in California.

Other Lease Agreement Violations

This type of eviction can occur for a variety of reasons. Any violation of the lease or rental agreement signed by you and the tenant can be grounds for eviction. Common lease violations include unapproved pets or long-term guests.

Related: 6 Clauses You Should Put in Your Lease Agreement Today

No-Fault Just Cause

Sometimes tenants may be evicted for reasons beyond their control. No-fault just cause evictions are not due to tenant behavior, but rather extenuating circumstances for the landlord. These may include taking the rental off the market, selling the property, demolishing or significantly remodeling the rental, or moving themselves or an immediate family member into the unit as a primary residence. Landlords must give appropriate notice and in certain cases noted above, pay the affected tenant relocation fees in the amount of one month’s rent.

California Rent Control: The End of “No Cause” Evictions

Formerly in some California cities, landlords could evict a month-to-month tenant for no reason as long as they gave proper notice. They could also refuse to renew a tenant’s long-term lease without justification. These types of evictions, called no cause evictions, will no longer be legal when a new statewide California rent control measure takes effect starting January 1, 2020.

In addition to enacting caps on rent hikes, under the recently approved Assembly Bill 1482 , all landlords will now be required to show just cause before evicting a tenant who has lived on a property for more than a year.

Under the new law, a tenant who has been on a month-to-month rental agreement but who has resided on the property for more than one year cannot be evicted without one of the just cause reasons listed above. The same goes for tenants whose yearly lease is ending — the landlord may not deny the tenant a lease renewal without just cause unless they offer relocation assistance in the form of one month’s rent.

In month-to-month tenancies where the tenant has lived on the property for less than one year, they may still be subject to a no cause eviction as long as the landlord gives proper notice.

The Eviction Process in California

There are several different kinds of notices depending on the reason for eviction. Each one must include specific information and must be received by the tenant in one of three ways:

  1. You or another party gives the notice directly to the tenant.
  2. You or another party leaves the notice with an occupant of the household who is at least 18; you also send a copy of the notice by mail.
  3. You or another party affixes a copy of the notice to the tenant’s door; you also send a copy of the notice by mail.

Giving Notice

You must provide the correct notice to the tenant to proceed with eviction. Failing to use the correct notice or not including all the pertinent information on the notice can result in an eviction being thrown out in court.

3-Day Notice to Quit or Pay Rent

This notice should be used when the tenant has defaulted on their monthly rent payments. It must include, in writing, the full name of all tenants, the full address of the unit, the full amount of rent the tenant owes including past due dates, and it should clearly state that the tenant has 3 business days to either make a rent payment or move out. This notice should not include late fees, interest, utilities, or any other damages other than base rent payments.Generally speaking landlords cannot evict a tenant for unpaid late fees alone unless there is a stipulation in the rental agreement which constitutes unpaid late fees as unpaid rent for the following month.

Tellus Tip

Don’t accept partial rent payments when evicting a tenant. Accepting a partial payment in California forces landlords to start the eviction process over again.

3-Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit

This notice, also sometimes known as a 3-Day Notice to Cure or Quit, applies to tenants who have violated their lease in a manner which is able to be remedied, such as removing an unauthorized pet from a rental unit. The written notice must include all of the same identifying information in addition to clearly stating that the tenant has the opportunity to cure the situation in the next 3 business days.

3-Day Notice to Quit

This notice should be used when a tenant causes a nuisance on the property. Nuisances are defined as anything “which is injurious to health, including, but not limited to, the illegal sale of controlled substances, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property” per Section 3479 of the California Civil Code. Nuisance may include illegal subletting or property damage, known as “committing waste”. Unlike the previous notices, this notice leaves the tenant no other option other than to vacate the unit.

30-Day or 60-Day Notice to Quit*

A landlord may give notice of no less than 30 days to a tenant who is on a month-to-month lease agreement if they have been living in the rental unit for less than one year. If the tenant has been living in the unit for more than one year, the landlord must give a 60 day notice to end the tenancy.

*In cities that already have rent control (and statewide beginning on January 1), landlords may not end a month-to-month tenancy without just cause.

90-Day Notice to Quit

This notice is specific to tenants renting Section 8 housing. Subsidized rental tenants are entitled to a 90-day notice and the notice must clearly explain, with just cause, the reason the tenant is being asked to move out.

Filing an Unlawful Detainer

If you serve a notice and the tenant responds appropriately by either remedying the situation or vacating the unit, you do not need to proceed with eviction. If, at the end of the final business day allowed by the notice, the tenant has not complied, you will need to file an Unlawful Detainer. You can begin by filling out three forms: a Summons, Complaint, and Civil Case Cover Sheet.

Once you have filled out these forms, you can file them with the clerk at your local courthouse (Note: it must be the corresponding courthouse to where the rental property is located). There will likely be a filing fee. Upon receiving your official copies of the unlawful detainer, you can serve the tenant.

Serving the Tenant

Serving a tenant an unlawful detainer is slightly more complicated than serving them a notice. The tenant should be given a copy of the Complaint and Summons in person by a process server if possible. The process server must make at least two attempts to serve the tenant in person before resorting to other methods like leaving the papers with a responsible member of the household.

To mail the tenant a copy of the Complaint and Summons instead, the landlord must get approval from the court first and give the tenant 10 days to receive it. Because of the nature of lawsuits, all official court documents must typically be served by a process server, not the landlord. Once the process server has served the documents, you will need to fill out an additional Proof of Service to be filed with the court clerk.

Waiting for Tenant Response

Depending on the manner in which the tenant is served, they may have varying lengths of time to respond to the unlawful detainer. If the tenant was served in person, they have 5 business days to file a response. If the tenant received the documentation either in the mail or through another person in the household, they have 15 days from the date of postmark or receipt to respond.

The tenant may respond by filing an answer to the unlawful detainer. There are two ways a tenant can delay or derail an eviction hearing. In a motion to quash service, the tenant may argue that they were served improperly, which may force the landlord to start the process over again.

If they file a demurrer, they assert that the landlord’s complaint does not meet the requirements for a just cause eviction or does not include all the correct information. A demurrer can delay a trial by several weeks and force the landlord to give notice all over again — all the more reason to make sure you file all legal documentation correctly the first time.

If the tenant contests the unlawful detainer, it is up to the landlord to set the trial into motion by filing a Request to Set Case for Trial - Unlawful Detainer. The form gives you options as to which issues you would like discussed and if you want a jury trial. After being filed with the court clerk, a copy of the request must then be sent by mail to the tenant before proceeding to trial.

Default Judgments

If the tenant does not file any kind of response within the appropriate time frame, you may ask the court to order a default judgment. If a default judgment is granted, the eviction will become a part of the tenant’s record, their credit score will suffer, and they may even have their wages garnished in order to pay for back rent or other damages.

In order to secure a default judgment, you will need to fill out and file the following forms:  a Request for Entry of Default, a Judgment-Unlawful Detainer, and a Writ of Execution.

Going to Trial

If you’re not interested in collecting back rent from your tenant and just want to reclaim the property as soon as possible, you may want to consider filing a Clerk’s Judgment for Possession using the Judgment-Unlawful Detainer form noted above. As long as you have followed the correct procedure in the judge’s eyes, you should be granted the Writ of Execution, which will allow the local sheriff’s office to carry out the eviction.

If you do intend to collect back rent in addition to reclaiming the property, you can still go to court. Within a week of filing the trial request, the court will notify you and the tenant of your court date. Generally speaking, it will be set within 20 days of your receipt of the notice. While California landlords have the right to file a trial request, tenants also have the right to file a Counter-Request if they don’t agree with the information you filed.

If you go to trial, you’ll want to come prepared. Landlords should bring all applicable documents that support their claim against the tenant: the lease agreement, all notices served to the tenant, any written communication between themselves and the tenant, building inspection results, and any photos which serve as evidence of damage or nuisance. Landlords also have the option to call forth witnesses if it may strengthen their case.

A judge or commissioner will hear from both the landlord and the tenant and then make a decision in one party’s favor. If the tenant wins, they may be allowed to stay in the rental and the landlord may be responsible for their legal and filing fees. A judge will determine how much rent the tenant owes to the landlord.

If the landlord wins, the tenant must leave the rental unit. They may also be responsible for back rent, damages, and legal and filing fees.

Tellus Tip

Many eviction cases can be solved outside the courtroom. Tenants and landlords may be able to negotiate a deal with the help of a mediator, saving everyone involved time and money. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you still have the option to go to trial.

Evicting the Tenant

If the judge rules in the landlord’s favor, the court will give you a Judgment of Possession, which legally gives you possession of the property. A Writ of Execution will then be issued to the local sheriff’s office. The sheriff's office will post an official eviction notice, which gives the tenant 5 days to vacate. If, after that time, the tenant is still on the property, the sheriff will remove them and perform a lockout.

A Warning Against Self-Help Evictions

Under no circumstances should a landlord ever attempt to making living conditions uninhabitable in order to get a tenant to leave. They also may not change the locks or in any way attempt to keep the tenant out of the rental unit. The only entity with the authority to lock out a tenant is the sheriff’s office after they have received a directive from the court. You should check with your local constable to see if there are any additional procedures you must follow.

Landlords who use self-help evictions may have their case thrown out or even be counter-sued for damages by the tenant. Self-help actions include:

  • Shutting off or interrupting any of the following utilities or services: water, heat, light, electricity, gas, telephone, elevator, or refrigeration
  • Removing doors or windows
  • Changing the locks
  • Removing any of the tenant’s personal property from the unit

Final Word

The new rent control laws in California will make evicting a tenant more difficult for landlords. The process is long and can be very confusing without the help of an attorney to guide you through all the paperwork. Landlords need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities, but they should also have a thorough understanding of their tenants’ rights as well. Remember, the best way to prevent evictions in the first place is to craft a comprehensive lease agreement and conduct thorough tenant screenings.

Related: Evictions in Nevada: Everything Landlords Should Know

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