The process of evicting a tenant in California can be complicated, and if you don’t follow the proper procedures, you could face a lawsuit. There are a few things you need to do before you can even begin the eviction process, such as giving the tenant a written notice.
Step 1: Send the Tenant a Formal Notice to Perform or Quit
Sending a formal notice is the first step in the process of evicting a tenant. This notice is required to give the tenant the opportunity to be aware of the issue and to correct it before getting evicted. The case is considered settled if the tenant fixes the issue after the notice has been delivered.
The notice must also be delivered correctly. There are two ways to deliver the notice:
- Option 1: physically hand the notice to the tenant. Record when and where you did so, and sign a sworn affidavit. Keep this for later because if you file in court, you must attach a copy of this affidavit.
- Option 2: give this notice to someone else who lives there or post the notice to the front door AND mail a copy of the notice to the tenant. If you use option 2, you must always mail a copy of the notice to the tenant in addition to the physical delivery.
You can deliver the notice yourself or ask a friend or family member to do it for you. However, the best way to retain proof that you have fulfilled this step correctly is to hire a professional process server to deliver the notice. This will be important if you need to show evidence of this step to a judge later.
There are different types of notices that fall under this category, including but not limited to: 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, 3 Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit, 3 Day Notice to Quit, 30 Day or 60 Day Notice to Quit, 90 Day Notice to Quit.
Step 2: Prepare and File the Eviction (Unlawful Detainer) Court Paperwork
After you have served the notice to quit or pay rent, you must wait the required number of days before filing an eviction lawsuit. The number of days you must wait depends on the type of notice you served. Do not include the following days as part of the waiting time: Saturdays, Sundays, or court holidays.
The next step is to fill out the proper eviction forms. The forms you need to fill out are: Summons - Unlawful Detainer-Eviction (SUM-130), Complaint - Unlawful Detainer (UD-100), Plaintiff’s Mandatory Cover Sheet, Supplemental Allegations – Unlawful Detainer (UD-101), and Civil Case Cover Sheet (CM-010).
After you have filled out the required forms, take them to the court clerk’s office to file them. The clerk will keep the originals and give you copies to serve on the tenant.
Step 3: Serve (or Post) the Approved Court Paperwork to the Tenant
After the court papers have been accepted and stamped by the court, you will receive them back to serve the defendant. You cannot serve the court summons (approved court paperwork) yourself.
There are three ways to serve the paperwork. You can have someone you know do it, hire a professional process server, or hire the sheriff's office. The most popular option is to hire a professional process server, as they are experienced in this and will be able to do it quickly and efficiently.
Once the process server has served the paperwork, they will fill out a proof of service and give it to you. You will then need to file this in court.
After being served, the tenant has 5 days to file a response with the court. This also does not include Saturday, Sunday, or court holidays.
If the tenant does not file a response in court, you can file a request to get a "default judgment" in your favor.
If the tenant files an answer, you must file to get a court date. If the tenant files anything else (a motion to quash service or a demurrer), you should get the lawyer's advice on what to do next.
If you reach an agreement with your tenant, you can file a dismissal with the court (or postponement to give them time to follow the agreement).
Step 4: Go to the Court Hearing
If you’re going to trial, you should be prepared with evidence and facts to present. This might mean having copies of documents or photos or having a witness who can speak to the events in question.
When the judge calls on you to explain your case, be calm and confident as you explain the reason you believe the tenant should be evicted. Be sure to back up your argument with evidence.
Bring two extra copies (of documents or photos) for any evidence. When you present the evidence, you will be asked to give a copy to the judge and a copy to the other side.
If you have a witness who came with you, you may tell the court that you have a witness to call. The witness will come up to the stand and answer questions.
Once both sides have presented their arguments, the judge will make a decision. The judge will either rule in your favor or rule against you. If the judge rules in your favor, the tenant will be ordered to vacate the premises. If the judge rules against you, the tenant will be allowed to stay.
Step 5: Get a Writ of Possession From the Court for the Sheriff
If the judge rules in your favor, you will be given a signed "Judgement of Possession."
- Once you have this, fill out the "Judgement - Unlawful Detainer" (UD-110) and "Writ of Execution" (EJ-130).
- File both of these forms with the clerk.
- The clerk will send the Writ of Execution to the Sheriff (or will stamp it and ask you to send to the Sheriff), along with Sheriff Fees.
- The Sheriff will then give the defendant five days to move out before going to the property to physically evict them.
The defendant has options to slow down this process, ask for more time, ask for a do-over of the trial, or appeal the result to a higher court.
If the defendant did not show up to the trial, you must serve (using the official serving process) the Judgement of Possession to the defendant to notify them of the result. The five days begin once the service is complete.
Step 6: the Tenant Is Physically Removed From the House During the "Sheriff Lockout"
The final step in the eviction process is the “sheriff lockout.” This is when the sheriff comes to the property and physically removes the tenant. The tenant is allowed to remove their property but usually cannot take longer than an hour or two. Any remaining property must be disposed of in the legally appropriate way.
In some cases, the sheriff will also change the locks to prevent the tenant from coming back and damaging the property or stealing any remaining belongings.
In some cases, the sheriff will also change the locks.
The sheriff will contact you with details on the exact time of this so that you can be present if you so choose.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to evict a tenant, make sure you follow all of the necessary steps to do so legally to avoid being liable for damages, delays, or other issues. In most California cities, eviction can be completed within weeks, but errors or local rules can cause additional delays. Many landlords complete this process independently, while many prefer to hire attorneys to do it for them. Either way, it can be advantageous to understand the process for yourself.
If the tenant has already left the property, but you need to recover damages or unpaid rent, you may consider using small claims court.