California Eviction Process
October 10, 2023
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Eviction In California
If you own and rent properties in the state of California, you are responsible for complying with California eviction laws. In this article, we break down each step of the legal process to evict someone in California.
Eviction Process in California
- Landlord serves a three-day eviction notice.
- Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court.
- Court serves tenant the summons.
- Tenant files an answer.
- Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment.
- Tenant gets five days to move out.
- Sheriff arrives to forcibly remove the tenant.
In California, tenants can be evicted for living in the property after the lease has expired, failing to pay rent, or neglecting other conditions of the lease (Cal. CCP § 1161).
Note that a landlord cannot terminate a tenancy (or fail to renew) based on an act of abuse or violence against the tenant or their family if the tenant submits documentation of the act (Cal. CCP § 1161.3). It is also illegal to evict a tenant based on their immigration or citizenship status, unless the landlord is complying with a legal obligation under a federal government program (Cal. CCP § 1161.4).
1. Landlord Serves a Three-Day Eviction Notice
If any of the above lease violations occur, the landlord must first serve one of the following eviction notices and state that the tenant has three days to remedy or cure the violation as per California state eviction laws:
- Rent Demand Notice: 3 days to pay or quit. If rent is unpaid when due, the landlord must deliver this notice stating the amount of unpaid rent required to remedy the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate if it is not paid (not less than three days after receipt of the notice, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and judicial holidays) (Cal. CCP § 1161(2)).
- Lease Violation Notice: 3 days to cure or quit. If a tenant violates another lease term or otherwise “neglect[s] or fail[s] to perform other conditions or covenants of the lease,” the landlord must deliver this notice stating the breach and what is required to remedy it, as well as the date on which the lease will terminate if the tenant does not cure the breach (not less than three days after receipt of the notice, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and judicial holidays). If the breach is not remediable, the landlord does not need to send any notice before filing for eviction (Cal. CCP § 1161(3)).
- Unconditional Notice to Quit: 3 days to quit. This notice gives no opportunity to “cure” the violation and applies if the tenant does any of the following as per Cal. CCP § 1161(4):
- Severely damages the property
- Uses the property in a manner that qualifies as a public nuisance
- Uses the premises for an unlawful purpose (this could include criminal activity, prostitution, criminal nuisances, using a deadly weapon, selling/using illegal drugs, etc.).
All notices should be served either by delivering a copy to the tenant personally, leaving it with someone of suitable age and mailing a copy, or posting the notice in a conspicuous place (on the front door) and mailing a copy (Cal. CCP § 1162(a)).
2. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court
If the tenant has not cured the breach at the end of the three days (or if the violation is uncurable and three days have passed), the landlord can then file an eviction complaint in California Superior Court. The form required is called Complaint – Unlawful Detainer (downloadable here).
The complaint should be verified and includes:
- The landlord’s name
- The facts of the eviction case
- A description of the premises
- The amount of rent in default (for lawsuits based on nonpayment)
- When and how the landlord served the initial eviction notice (this requirement may be fulfilled by filling out all items in a Judicial Council form complaint, or by attaching proof of service of the notice).
The landlord should also attach to the complaint the following documents:
- A copy of the eviction notice
- A return receipt or other written proof that the notice was served properly
- A copy of the written rental agreement with any addenda (except in cases of oral leases)
If the landlord fails to attach these documents, the court will allow the landlord five days to include them.
The landlord will also be required to pay a filing fee, either $240 for unlawful detainer cases claiming up to $10,000 and up to $435 for cases claiming more than $25,000. The landlord may also be required to pay an additional fee of $15 for filing a first appearance as well as an undertaking in a sum determined by the judge to be paid to the tenant for damages if the landlord loses the case (Cal. CCP § 1161.2(d), § 1166a(c)).
3. Court Serves Tenant the Summons
Once the complaint is filed, the court will issue a summons (form SUM-130, Summons—Eviction, downloadable here). The summons demands the tenant’s presence in court and states the date and time of the court hearing. It must also include the following written warning to the tenant: “You may file affidavits on your own behalf with the court and may appear and present testimony on your own behalf. However, if you fail to appear, the plaintiff will apply to the court for a writ of possession of a manufactured home, mobile home, or real property.” (Cal. CCP § 1166a(b)).
The summons must be served between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. in one of the following manners:
- Personaly delivery to the tenant
- Handed to a person over 18 years of age at the tenant’s residence
- Delivered to the tenant’s attorney’s office.
- If the service cannot be made in any of these ways, the summons can be mailed to the tenant (Cal. CCP § 1011).
Proof of summons must also be filed with the court within 60 days after filing for eviction. If no proof is provided, the court could dismiss the case.
4. Tenant Files an Answer
After being served the summons, the tenant has five days (excluding weekends and holidays) to file a response with the court called an answer. The tenant must carefully fill out the Answer—Unlawful Detainer form (downloadable here), which states the reasons the tenant believes they should not be evicted. If they make any mistakes on the form, they could risk a default judgment against them. The tenant is allowed an extra five court days to file their answer if the summons was served by mail (Cal. CCP § 1167).
Between three to seven days after the eviction case is filed, the tenant can also file a notice of motion to dispute the case (Cal. CCP § 1167.4). This dispute could be on the grounds that the court has lack of jurisdiction or that there was another court that would have been more appropriate or convenient (Cal. CCP § 418.10). However, unless the tenant can show good cause, no continuance will be granted longer than ten days without the landlord’s consent (Cal. CCP § 1167).
If the tenant fails to file an answer, one of several things could happen. The landlord might be able to ask for a default judgment without attending a court hearing. The landlord might also be able to get an immediate order for possession if they are not asking for a monetary judgment. If the court can determine that the tenant moved out of state, cannot be found, or has hidden to avoid the summons, the landlord can also be granted immediate possession by a writ of possession (Cal. CCP § 1166a).
5. Landlord and Tenant Attend Court Hearing and Receive Judgment
On the day of the eviction hearing, the landlord should bring copies of the lease agreement, the eviction notice with proof of service, the complaint, and any evidence of the lease violation. Both the landlord and tenant will present their cases and any evidence to the judge, who will afterwards issue a judgment. The judgment will decide who is entitled to possession of the property.
If the landlord wins, the court will issue an order for immediate possession of the premises via a writ of restitution. The landlord will have to pay a fee of at least $25 for the issuance of the writ of restitution, which could be completed on the same day as the hearing or within a few days after.
If the tenant fails to appear at court to defend, the judgment will be awarded to the landlord by default (Cal. CCP. § 1169).
6. Tenant Gets Five Days to Move Out
Once the court has issued the writ of restitution, the landlord is responsible for taking it to the sheriff’s office to request service to the tenant. The writ of restitution must either be served to the tenant personally or posted at the premises. After the writ has been served, the tenant has five days to move out of the rental unit (Cal. CCP. § 715.010(b)(2)).
One exception is if the tenant requests a stay of execution. If the tenant can provide a valid reason why the execution of the writ should be delayed, they can stay the order for an additional period up to 40 days, according to the Judicial Branch of California.
7. Sheriff Arrives to Forcibly Remove the Tenant
The writ must be executed by a registered process server (Cal. CCP § 715.040). After five days have passed, an officer will search the property to determine if the tenant has left the premises. If the tenant is still in possession, the officer will take custody of the property by forcibly removing the tenant as per the writ of execution and delivering it back to the landlord (Cal. CCP § 714.020).
Evicting a Squatter in California
A squatter is a person who moves into a vacant or abandoned property without getting permission from the owner or paying rent. Squatters can usually be charged as criminal trespassers and be evicted like any other tenant. However, some squatters can receive the right to possession by meeting certain state-determined criteria. In California, squatters must have lived in the property, cultivated and improved it, and paid all property taxes for five consecutive years to invoke the squatter rights California provides and claim right of possession (CCP § 318, 325). Their possession must also be:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease with the owner
- Actual—The squatter must be actively residing on the property
- Open and Notorious—The squatter is openly and obviously living there.
- Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else.
- Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession.
While relatively rare, if a squatter meets all these criteria, they have “color of title”: the right of legal ownership without having a written deed to the property. They can file an action for adverse possession in California to legally obtain the title to the property. However, in most cases, a squatter will not meet the criteria and can be removed. If you think a squatter is living in your vacant property in California, you should:
- Call local law enforcement.
- Determine whether the person is a trespasser or a squatter.
- If the person is a trespasser, they can be removed immediately by a police officer.
- If the person is a squatter, you must contact the sheriff’s office.
- Send the squatter a three-day eviction notice as per California eviction law.
- If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the three-day period, file for eviction and follow the typical eviction process.
- Only the sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. You cannot do so, and neither can a police officer.
California Eviction Cost Estimates
How much do evictions cost in California? This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of an eviction in California, according to civil procedure in the state and iPropertyManagement. A highly accurate estimate of an eviction is impossible to provide, as cases and circumstances vary so widely. Remember to factor in other losses due to an eviction as well, such as lost rent, time, and stress.
|Filing fee||$240-$435 + $15|
|Service of court summons||Varies by process server|
|Issuance of writ of restitution||$25|
|Service of writ of restitution||Varies by process server|
|Average locksmith fees||$160|
|Storage fees for abandoned property||Varies|
|Tenant turnover costs||Varies|
California Eviction Time Estimates
The chart below shows an estimate of the duration of each part of the eviction process. Keep in mind that the length of eviction cases varies widely depending on the complexity of the eviction, the court’s current caseload, and whether or not the tenant contests or appeals the lawsuit.
|Eviction notice period||3 days|
|Service of summons to tenant||<60 days|
|Tenant response period||5-10 days|
|Eviction hearing||20 days after filing|
|Issuance of writ of restitution||A few hours to a few days|
|Execution of writ of restitution||5 days|
|Automatic stay period (if applicable)||<40 days|
|Total||~3 weeks to 2 months|
- California Superior Court Statewide Civil Fee Schedule – This document lists the court filing fees in the state of California’s Superior courts.
- California Rules of Court – the specific rules of civil procedure and court policies in California.
The eviction process in any state can be long and complex, so hiring an eviction attorney is advised in most cases. It’s also important to note that municipalities and local governments often have stricter laws and requirements for landlords, so be sure to check local statutes as well as state ones. However, by reviewing the legal procedures and California laws on eviction, you can feel more confident pursuing an eviction in this state.
Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information.