How To Evict A Tenant In California: Every Situation Explained

When working as a landlord, it’s your responsibility to keep up with not just federal laws but also with local and state laws as well. In fact, most aspects of renal property management are dictated by state laws and further refined by local laws.

Everything from how many days notice you must give a tenant before ending a lease to what types of regulations you can put on a tenant living in your property may be fundamentally controlled at the state level.

For that reason, it’s very important that you understand every nuance of the state laws where you are working. When working in California, one particularly essential bit of law to become familiar with is the California eviction process.

Eviction works differently in every state, but one key factor remains. You will always want to regain control of your property as quickly as possible. By remaining current and knowledgeable about how to evict a tenant in California, you can do just that.

Whether you’re dealing with a no lease, leased, or month-to-month situations, today’s essential guide for landlords will help you decode just what you need to do to maneuver your property through the eviction process.

A Table of Contents for the California Eviction Process

What Is Eviction?

First, let’s review exactly what eviction is and when it can generally be pursued by a landlord.

Eviction is when a landlord legally removes a tenant from their property through a series of documents and legal processes. The reasons for eviction vary widely – from not paying rent to overstaying the lease term – but the process largely retains a similar structure no matter what the reason for eviction is.

Generally, eviction is something that landlords try to avoid needing to deal with. The cost of eviction proceedings can be high, and there is little guarantee that you’ll ever be returned the money that you are owed by a former tenant. Additionally, it can be downright confusing to figure out.

Since specifics of eviction laws differ from state to state, today’s article will focus on the laws that are currently in effect in California. Keep in mind that if you are working in another state, the laws may be different, and you will need to take your location into consideration before beginning eviction proceedings.

Legal Reasons to Evict in California

Have you ever become so annoyed with someone that you just want to tell them to leave? Have you ever done just that?

When landlords are dealing with tenants who won’t pay or refuse to move out of the property, they can end up in that exact situation. In the heat of your frustration, simply unlocking the door and telling the tenant to leave might be tempting.

But it would also be very illegal!

You cannot simply make a tenant leave for any reason if you have signed an ongoing contract with them. Unless you have a valid reason to evict them from your property, you are required by law to allow them to remain until the end of their rental period without harassment.

If, however, any of the following reasons apply, you may be able to have them evicted:

  • Consistently paying rent late
  • Causing extreme damages to the property
  • Not abiding by the lease terms
  • Breaking the lease terms and refusing to fix the problem
  • Conducting illegal actions on the property
  • Consistently disturbing neighbors and other tenants
  • Staying beyond lease period terms

If your tenant is doing any of the listed things, it is time for you to begin eviction proceedings. When any of these things are happenings, the best choice is to proceed quickly and begin eviction proceedings as soon as possible.

One of two things will then happen.

In the best case scenario, the tenant will see the error of their ways, and you will be able to come to an amicable solution to continue the rental agreement.

In the worst case scenario, the tenant will not make any changes, and you will officially be able to get into the heart of the eviction process. How does that work? Keep reading to find out!

The California Eviction Process

Now that we’re all on the same page about when eviction might be the right solution to use at one of your properties, let’s talk about how to actually work through eviction proceedings.

Every eviction situation is somewhat unique and will use a specific type of eviction notice. We’ll cover the details of each notice type in the section below. Before that, however, let’s cover how to work through the entire, general eviction process.

Step 1: Give Notice for Termination of Tenancy

The first thing that you are required to do is to give the tenant notice of why the lease will be ending. You are not able to do anything like eviction until this notice has been given to the tenant. There are cause and no-cause termination notices.

Be sure that you write the notice carefully and accurately.

Notices with a Cause

There are two main categories that every notice with cause can be sorted into: curable and incurable.

Curable notices give the tenant a chance to remedy a past mistake. If, for example, the tenant has let trash accumulate to an extreme degree in the yard, you would write them a curable notice, which gives them a specific amount of time to fix the problem.

If the tenant can cure the problem in time, they will not be evicted. If they do not, you can begin eviction proceedings.

Incurable notices are for more serious offenses or for repeat problems. If a tenant consistently does not pay their rent on time or they were caught doing something illegal on the property, you have cause to serve them a notice with no chance of avoiding eviction proceedings.

In most cases, it is up to you to decide whether or not something is a curable or an incurable offense. Regardless, if the tenant does not or cannot make changes, you can move to the next step of the California eviction process.

Notices without a Cause

There are also some notice types that do not require a specific cause.

If you are wondering how to evict a tenant in California in month-to-month lease contracts, you can send them notice without cause letting them know that the contract will not be renewing after a certain date.

If you have a fixed-term contract and you do not renew it, you do not need to give the tenant any type of notice.

Step 2: Waiting Period

After you make sure that the papers are properly delivered to the tenant through certified mail, you must then wait the allotted number of days. If you sent a three-day notice, you must wait three days, excluding weekends and holidays, to continue the eviction process.

If you do not hear from the tenant or see any changes made during this time, you can then move on to the next step.

Step 3: Filing Initial Paperwork

After the waiting period, go to your courthouse and file these three papers:

  1. Civil case cover sheet
  2. Summons
  3. Complaint

By completely filling out these forms, you will be presenting the major facts of the case to the court so that they can understand the problem at hand.

You will also need to hire a third-party service to serve the complaint and summons directly to the tenant with proof that they have seen the paperwork.

Step 4: Waiting Again

Once again, you’ll need to wait for a response from the tenant to be able to proceed with the eviction case.

If the tenant was served in person, they are legally required to respond in five days. If they received the paperwork in the mail, they have up to 15 days to respond.

In cases where the tenant never responds, you as the landlord are able to file for eviction without any input from the tenant. If you win the case, you will be given a Writ of Possession that can be later used to remove the tenant from the property. Skip to step #6.

In cases where the tenant has evidence to the contrary point that they would like to present, the court will set a date. Continue to step #5.

Step 5: Court Hearing

At the court hearing, both you and the tenant will be expected to show up with all of the documents, receipts, photographs, and any other relevant information to the claims at hand. Both sides should be ready to defend their perspective on the case so that the judge can make a well-informed and complete decision.

If you win, the court will award you a Writ of Possession.

If the tenant wins, you may be responsible for covering lost money, attorney fees, or other inconvenience taxes.

Step 6: Writ of Possession

Once you have a Writ of Possession, you must take it to the local Sheriff in order to take back control of your property. You should never try to remove a tenant yourself, even with this document, as that could be illegal.

Instead, file the document with the Sheriff and let them do the work to remove the tenant. Your property will be yours once again.

California Eviction Notice Types & Uses

Those are the main points of California eviction that you need to be familiar with, but it is also important to understand the main types of notice that you might use when you are beginning the process.

3-Day Notice

The first type of notice, and one of the most commonly used types in California, is the 3-day notice. This type of notice can be used as a 3-day pay or quit notice, a 3-day perform a fix or quit notice, or a 3-day notice to quit.

This notice can be used in the following circumstances and the types of notice that can be used for each situation depending on the severity of the events:

  • Tenant owes rent (pay or quit)
  • Tenant broke the lease (remedy or quit)
  • Tenant allowing trash to build up (remedy or quit; quit)
  • Tenant causing health risk for others (quit)
  • Tenant broke the law on the property (quit)

If any of these apply to your property, you can use this notice. If the problem is curable, you’ll want to outline exactly what the tenant can do to remedy the situation in the notice. If it is not curable, you will want to be clear that there is no way for them to remain at the property any longer.

The difference in curable versus incurable will determine exactly which type of notice you will want to use when delivering this notice to your tenant.

30-Day and 60-Day Notice

If you are trying to figure out how to evict a tenant in California month-to-month may make that confusing. Can you evict them if the month-to-month tenancy has been ongoing for a few months?

The short answer is yes.

If the tenant has been at the property for less than one year, you can evict them using a 30-day notice. If the tenant has been there longer – for more than one year – you must use a 60-day notice instead.

90-Day Notice

If you manage a subsidized housing property, you must use a 90-day notice instead of any of the other types of notice when you want to end a lease. You are also required to have legal reasons for needing the tenant to leave.

California Eviction Timeline

As you can see, it might be hard to guess how long it will take to fully regain control of your property. If the tenant sees that they need to move out and leaves right away, you might be able to start working on your property within three days.

If, however, the tenant decides to fight against your evidence, the entire process could take one or two months – or even longer. Ultimately, the exact timeline will be determined by the tenant’s and court’s responses to your accusations about the condition and circumstances of the rental tenancy.

Avoid Eviction Altogether

Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t need to learn how to evict a tenant in California, no lease or otherwise, after all?

Ultimately, one of the best ways to protect yourself from needing to deal with eviction situations is to choose better tenants to live on your properties to begin with. Better tenants are less likely to lead you into an eviction situations; all it takes is the right screening tools to find those tenants.