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How to Evict a Tenant in California

Understand the reasons you can legally evict a tenant in California—and the process you have to follow to get them out.

In California, you must have just cause to evict. Just cause is a legal reason that justifies the eviction—in California, just cause could be that your tenant failed to pay rent, violated the lease, or damaged the rental property. (Keep reading for the complete list.) You may not evict someone for anything that could legally be deemed retaliatory. For example, if a tenant makes a valid claim about the condition of the apartment, you can’t evict them as punishment.

1. Determine their form of tenancy

Your tenant's legal status as a renter will determine how and why you can evict them.

If you and your tenant signed a lease or other form or written rental agreement, they are a fixed term tenant, and you must have just cause to evict.

Your tenant is a month to month tenant if you do not have a written lease or rental agreement. If your tenant has month to month tenancy, California state law says that you can evict them by serving 30 or 60 day notice without any reasoning. Certain cities require just cause be provided to month to month tenants if they are living in a rent controlled or subsidized housing program.

2. Determine just cause

If there is a written rental agreement between you and your tenant, you will need just cause to evict. The following actions are considered just cause in a fixed-term tenant eviction case in California:

  • Failing to pay rent
  • Violating terms of the lease or rental agreement
  • Damaging the rental property
  • Using the rental property illegally
  • Substantially interfering with the safety or well-being of other tenants
  • Committing domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault against another person living on the property
  • Dealing, using, growing, importing or making illegal drugs on the property
  • Conducting dogfighting or cockfighting on the property
  • Engaging in any illegal activity involving weapons on the property

3. Figure out how much notice you need to give your tenant

If your tenant signed a written rental agreement with you, you must provide only three days written notice. If you are terminating a month to month tenancy without cause, you must give either thirty or sixty days written notice. If your tenant has lived in the unit for over a year, you must provide sixty days notice. If they have lived in the unit for less than one year, you must provide only thirty days notice. Any written notice must explicitly state why the tenant is being evicted. If you gave thirty days notice, for failure to pay rent for example, and the tenant pays the rent owed, they have a right to continue living in your place. We’ve created a template for this kind of notice that you can customize and use.

4. Serve notice

There are four different methods of service allowed by law when you are beginning the eviction process against your tenant. They are personal service, substituted service, posting and mailing, and mailing. Each method of delivery has very detailed rules that you must follow in order to keep your eviction case from being dismissed. Any of these methods can be used when serving thirty or sixty days notice. All methods but mailing may be used when serving three days notice. Mailing notice can only be used if you are ending a month to month tenancy with thirty or sixty days notice.

Under California law, notice can be served by you, your agent, or anyone over the age of 18.

5. File papers

If your tenant has any issues with the eviction, they may try to discuss it with you. If you are determined to evict them, you typically do not have to give them the chance to make things right - unless you have served them a three day notice for unpaid rent and they are offering to pay it in full. In that case, you will have to accept the rent payment and evict for another reason later on. If you are evicting for just cause and your tenant remedies the situation, you cannot move forward with the eviction process.

After serving notice and allowing the notice period to pass, you must file paperwork with the court to begin an unlawful detainer suit against your tenant. All of the forms required are available on the state government's website. You must first complete a summons to be served to the tenant. Then, you will complete a complaint. Bring the original copy of both the summons and complaint, and two copies of each, to the Superior Court in your jurisdiction. Every paper you bring to the court must be two-hole punched.

The clerk of the court will stamp your paperwork with your case number and sign it. They will keep the originals and return the copies to you. You will then have to pay a filing fee, which can be as expensive as $435. The state government provides a chart to help you determine your filing fee in advance. If you are low-income or receive government assistance in any way, you may be eligible to have the fee waived.

The rules for serving your tenant with a summons and complaint are the same as they are for serving an eviction notice. Be sure that your server provides you with a complete proof of service after service is complete. You will need to return to your local Court and file the proof of service.

6. Go to court

Your tenant may file an answer with the court in an attempt to fight the eviction. Regardless, the court will set a trial date to take place within the next twenty days. The trial will not have a jury; eviction lawsuits are decided only by a judge. The burden of proof is on you, so all of the documentation you have collected comes into play here. Provide any evidence of just cause for the eviction. It is up to you to prove that you followed the correct steps for serving notice. If you failed to serve notice correctly, the case can be thrown out, and you will have to start over from the beginning.

If the judge rules in your favor, the sheriff will give your tenant notice that they have five days to move out. If they need to stay longer, they can file a stay of execution with the court to request more time, but they must pay rent for any extra days they are allowed to stay by the court. If they do not vacate the unit within the amount of time granted by the court, a law enforcement officer will forcibly remove them. If this occurs, you have the right to change the locks on your apartment.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.