You may have been served eviction notice and/or an eviction lawsuit (known in California as “Unlawful Detainer”) and you’re wondering, “what’s next?” With this eviction process guide, you will learn about the eviction process in California. Overall, the eviction process is the same for anyone living in California, with the exception of a few cities under rent/eviction control ordinances. This eviction process guide will provide a general understanding of California evictions, each step of the eviction process, and the timeline of each of step in the process.
1. FIRST STEP IN EVICTION PROCESS
2. SECOND STEP IN EVICTION PROCESS - UNLAWFUL DETAINER
The first step in the eviction process involves an “eviction notice.” The landlord must “serve” a
written eviction notice to the tenant. Without “service” of an eviction notice, the landlord cannot
successfully evict. Written eviction notices served by the landlord are legal documents. By serving
written notice, the landlord can later prove that the tenant was aware of the circumstance leading
to the eviction, if needed for court proceedings. We’ll talk about that in the next step.
TYPES OF EVICTION NOTICE
The type of written notice a landlord must serve in the eviction process must relate with the type
of eviction. Evictions in California can be broken down into five basic types: 1. based on nonpayment
of rent; 2. breach of lease/rental agreement; 3. termination of tenancy (“no fault”
eviction); 4. Foreclosure; and, 5. by governmental order. These may differ depending on the city
you live in, and if that city is regulated under any additional rent ordinances. There are other rare
types of eviction, such as “Forcible Detainer.” But, for the purposes of this guide, we will focus on
the most common reasons related to the eviction process. An eviction may be based on one of
the five reasons listed above, and each type of eviction must start with “service” of specific
- 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit.
The most common eviction in California is for non-payment of rent. A tenant is unable
to pay rent when due and the landlord delivers or “serves” a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent
or Quit to start the process. The 3-Day notice states that the tenant must either pay
the delinquent rent or “quit” (vacate the property) in three days (Code of Civil
Procedure Section 1161(2)). In a majority of cases, even vacating in three days is not
possible for tenants. We’ll discuss what happens after the notice expires later in this
- Breach of Lease/Rental Agreement
If a tenant violates or causes a “breach” of the rules outlined in a lease or terms of
tenancy, the proper type of notice a landlord should serve is a 3-Day Notice to
Perform Covenant or Quit, or a 3-Day Notice to Cure or Quit (Code of Civil Procedure
Section 1161(3)). These two notices are essentially the same. They request that the
tenant “Perform” or “Cure” a violation of the terms or “Covenant” of tenancy. For
example, if a tenant has an un-authorized occupant or an un-authorized pet
occupying the rental unit, it may be a violation of the terms of tenancy, and the
landlord may serve a 3-Day notice under this type of eviction. The tenant has three
days to comply with the notice (in this example removing the un-authorized tenant
or pet). Other examples of violations are: un-authorized parking; disabled vehicle;
unclean or hazardous area; un-paid fees (including late fees); and most anything listed
in the terms of the rental agreement. We’ll discuss what happens if there is noncompliance
after notice expires later in this guide.
Additionally, there is another type of notice that falls in this section, a 3-Day Notice
to Quit, that may be served for a serious breach that cannot be cured. These include:
criminal violations; documented hostility or violence with another tenant; restraining
orders; vandalism; and a few other serious violations that allow the landlord to evict
without giving the tenant a way to “fix” the issue. Basically, the tenant is given three
days to get out. Who can vacate their home in three days?
- Termination of Tenancy (“no fault” eviction)
This is the second most common type of eviction. Essentially, the landlord can choose
to “terminate” the tenancy. If a tenant has been living at a property for less than a
year and does not have an active fixed term lease (e.g. 6 month lease or 12 month
lease), or the lease has expired or is a month-to-month tenancy, a landlord may serve
the tenant a 30 Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy (Civil Code Section 1946) to start
the eviction process. The landlord does not need a reason, nor is the landlord required
to indicate a reason on the notice.
If a tenant has been living at a property for more than one year and does not have an
active fixed term lease, or the lease has expired or is a month-to-month tenancy, a
landlord must serve a 60 Day Notice to terminate the tenancy (Civil Code Section
1946.1). Again, the landlord is not required to provide a reason.
The 30 or 60 Day notice is legal in most areas of California except those that are
regulated by “Rent Control” or “Eviction Control.” For example, multi-family
properties located within the City of Los Angeles, built before October 1, 1978, are
subject to the Los Angeles Municipal Code – Rent Stabilization Ordinance, and a 30 or
60 day notice is not permitted by the “rent control” ordinance (L.A.M.C. Section
151.09). The City of Glendale, California has an eviction control or “just cause”
ordinance that also prohibits 30 or 60 day notices (Glendale Municipal Code 9.30).
- After Foreclosure
If an owner of a home has defaulted on their mortgage, often the bank will
“foreclose” and sell the home. After foreclosure, the new owner, sometimes the bank
itself, will serve the previous foreclosed owner a 3-Day Notice to Quit (Code of Civil
Procedure 1161a). Although it is titled the same as the one in paragraph 2 above, this
is a different notice intended for the new owner to gain possession of the property
after foreclosure. The previous owner has no way to “cure” this type of notice. The
new owner wants the house, usually to live in, and the previous owner must vacate.
For tenants of the previous owner who rent the foreclosed home, the new owner or
bank must serve different notices, along with a 90-day notice (if the current tenant
does not have an active fixed-term lease). The 90-day notice will inform the tenant
they must pay rent during the 90 days, but the tenancy is terminated, just as with a
30 or 60-day notice (Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161b).
Note: there are situations where even tenants with a fixed term lease that extends
beyond the 90-day notice may still be given only 90 days.
- Termination of Tenancy Due to Governmental Order
These are also considered rare types of eviction, but worth noting. The eviction
process starts with the landlord receiving a citation, or they want to renovate the
property. If there is a serious violation, a government agency, such as “Code
Enforcement,” “Building and Safety,” or “Heath Department” cite the landlord for a
“sub-standard” property or violation. If the violation is serious enough (i.e.
condemned), it becomes the landlord’s responsibility to remove the tenant. The same
is true for landlords who want to renovate a property. In rent-controlled areas, like
Los Angeles, the landlord is responsible for “relocation assistance” payment to the
tenant. Evictions based on governmental orders are very complicated and too lengthy
for this guide.
- FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH EVICTION NOTICE
Eviction notices ARE legal documents. They are required by law and serve as documented proof a
tenant was notified of the potential to be evicted. If a tenant fails to comply with the eviction
notice, the next lawful step a landlord may take in the eviction process is to file an eviction lawsuit
( unlawful detainer) in court. Essentially, the notice is the first step a landlord is required by law to take in order to evict a tenant.
Okay, so we discussed the first step... notice, types of notice, and now let’s discuss the next series of steps
in the eviction process. The next series of steps in the eviction process are those related to a lawsuit for
eviction. A landlord must sue the tenant in court to legally evict. This starts with filing and “service” of the
eviction lawsuit… otherwise known as Unlawful Detainer action. “Unlawful Detainer” sounds scary. Some
of our clients have asked if there are any criminal or jail consequences because of how it sounds…
“unlawful.” There are NO criminal or jail consequences, or immigration consequences either. Unlawful
detainer lawsuits are civil actions. Meaning, it’s a lawsuit for money or other non-criminal related action
(with evictions its “removal” from the property, otherwise called “possession”). Unlawful detainer can be
for both money and possession. For example, with evictions for non-payment of rent, the landlord sues
for: 1. Money owed from past-due rent; 2. Possession of the property (removal of the tenant).
The unlawful detainer (or “UD” for short) is the court process to lawfully evict, or remove, a tenant from
the property. The landlord CANNOT remove or “lock-out” a tenant without successful “judgment” in a UD
proceeding. The UD proceeding moves the fastest through California courts compared to any other type
of lawsuit. They are designated as “summary” proceedings. This means many of the formal procedures
are removed to expedite the case.
The UD has its ateps as well. There is:
- The “filing” period (the time after expiration of notice to the time of filing UD with court);
- The “service” period (the time after filing to when the UD is “served”);
- The answer period (a tenant, or defendant, has only five days to file an answer in court, or they
- the pre-trial, or period before trial;
- trial period (generally, this takes one day); and,
- the post-trial period. From beginning to end, a common UD case can take anywhere from 15 to
25 days to completion or “judgement.”
The diagram below shows the typical eviction process as the unlawful detainer case moves through the
As you can see in the diagram, the typical eviction process from the time “notice” expires to “judgment”
occurs at a fast pace.
There is also an even faster way the unlawful detainer eviction process may move. This is when a tenant
does nothing in response and therefore “defaults,” or a “default” is entered. If a tenant does not file an
answer in court within the five days after being served a summons for unlawful detainer, the landlord may
file a default on or after the sixth day.
The diagram below shows the “default” eviction process of an unlawful detainer case.
3. THIRD STEP IN EVICTION PROCESS - JUDGMENT, WRIT, AND SHERIFF LOCKOUT
If the landlord is successful with the UD action (FYI: overall, landlords are 99% successful vs. DIY or selfrepresented
tenants), then the next step is where the court will order a “judgment” in favor of the landlord
and against the tenant.
Once the landlord has judgment in his favor, he may proceed with requesting what's called a “Writ of
Possession” from the court (Code of Civil Procedure Section 712.010). The “Writ” is an order from the
court giving the landlord permission to request “removal” by the local Sheriff. The landlord cannot remove
a tenant on his own even if he has a writ. The sheriff, also known as “levying officer,” is the only agency
that normally “removes” a tenant from a property in California. The levying officer will first come to the
property and serve or “post” a 5 Day Notice to Vacate. If after the five days have expired and there are
still tenants in the property, the levying officer is permitted to physically remove them (Code of Civil
Procedure Section 715.020). In some instances, tenants refusing to leave the property are arrested.
Usually, at the same time of removal, the sheriff is accompanied by the landlord and a locksmith. The
tenants are removed by the sheriff, the locksmith changes the locks, and landlord regains control over the
property. This is known as a “Sheriff’s Lock-out.” This should not be confused with an “illegal Lock-out”
that the landlord may try to conduct himself. A landlord cannot lock-out a tenant. Only a “levying officer”
who has a writ from court may lock-out or remove a tenant.
The diagram below shows the eviction process after judgment.
In terms of time, the eviction process from the time a tenant receives notice of eviction to actual removal
can occur within month. This all depends on the speed of the landlord/landlord’s attorney, the court, the
sheriff, and if the tenant has filed an answer or not.
For more details on the eviction process, the California Courts have provided the following Eviction