California Eviction Process

Last Updated: February 18, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

In California, a landlord has the legal right to evict a tenant for any of the below reasons:

  • Failure to pay rent.
  • Not upholding the terms of their lease.
  • Not upholding their responsibilities under California Civil Code.
  • Staying after their lease ends (after given proper notice).
  • Foreclosure of rental property.
  • Illegal activity.

The eviction process can be completed in five to eight weeks, but may take longer depending on the reason and whether it’s contested. All evictions follow the same step-by-step process:

  1. The landlord gives the tenant notice to “cure” the issue or vacate.
  2. If the issue isn’t resolved in time, the landlord files a complaint with the county court.
  3. The court serves the tenant with a Summons & Complaint.
  4. The tenant can contest. If they don’t, the landlord files a motion to obtain a Judgment.
  5. If the court grants it, they’ll post a Writ of Execution at the property.
  6. Finally, the sheriff returns possession of the property to the landlord.

Below we’ll start by discussing each legal reason for an eviction (or skip ahead to the 1st step of the process).

Questions? To chat with a California eviction attorney, Click here

Grounds for an Eviction in California

Landlords in California can begin the eviction process for several reasons.

Evictions for Failure to Pay Rent

A landlord is allowed to evict a tenant for failing to pay rent on time.

In California, unless the lease states otherwise, rent is due at the beginning of each pay period and is considered late immediately after its due date. Any grace periods are addressed in the lease/rental agreement. The landlord must provide a three days’ notice to pay or quit. This notice gives the tenant the option to pay the past due amount in full within three days.

Eviction Process for No Lease / End of Lease

In the state of California, landlords in rent-controlled cities are not allowed to terminate a tenancy without cause; therefore, cannot evict tenants simply because the rental period has ended.

In all other areas, if tenants “holdover,” or stay in the rental property after the rental term has expired, then the landlord may pursue an eviction action. Notice is needed prior to eviction except for the following situations:

  • Expired fixed-term leases.
  • If the rental unit is part of a job package, and the tenant loses the job or quits.
  • No lease agreement.

Where no notice is needed, a landlord may file an eviction action directly with the court without giving a tenant written notice beforehand.

For all month-to-month tenants, landlords are required to give a lease termination notice before evicting them. In California, landlords must either give 30 or 60 days’ notice this depends on how long the month-to-month tenant has lived in the rental unit.

  • Less Than One Year – If a month-to-month tenant has lived in the rental unit for less than one year, a landlord must provide the tenant with a 30-Day Notice to Quit.
  • One Year or More – If a month-to-month tenant has lived in the rental unit for a year or more, the landlord must provide the tenant with a 60-Day Notice to Quit.

If the tenant remains on the property after the notice period expires, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

Eviction Process for Violation of Lease Terms / Rental Agreement

A tenant can be evicted in California if they do not uphold their responsibilities and obligations under the terms of a written lease/rental agreement and the California Civil Code.

These violations are split into two categories:

  • Curable Violations – for minor offenses, the tenant is given an opportunity to fix (“cure”) the issue and shall be given three days’ notice to comply.
    • Examples include having unauthorized pets, not maintaining the unit in a clean and habitable manner, not keeping the fixtures clean and sanitary, using the rental unit for purposes other than living, sleeping, cooking or dinner.
  • Incurable Violations – for more serious offenses, the tenant doesn’t get a chance to fix it first and shall be given a three days’ notice to quit.
    • Examples include excessive damage or non-criminal nuisances.

Eviction Process for Foreclosure of Rental Property

A tenant can be evicted in California if the rental property is being foreclosed upon, and the tenancy will not be continued. For rental property foreclosures, the landlord is required to give tenants 90 days’ written notice prior to beginning an eviction action.

Tenants do not have the option to “cure” an issue to stay and must leave at the end of the notice period or the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

Eviction Process for Illegal Activity

Tenants who are involved in illegal activity must be given three days’ notice to quit before the landlord can proceed with an eviction action.

Illegal activity includes criminal threats, criminal activity, unlawful business activity (i.e. prostitution, using the rental unit as a business if that’s prohibited in the lease, etc.), and criminal nuisances such as:

  • Illegal firearm activity
  • Illegal drug activity
  • Dogfighting or cockfighting

If the tenant remains on the premises after the notice period expires, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

Illegal Landlord Retaliatory Evictions

It is illegal for a landlord to evict in response to a tenant exercising a legally protected right. These tenant’s rights include:

  • Complaining to the landlord about an issue with the property.
  • Contacting a local or government agency about an issue with the property.
  • Joining, supporting or organizing a tenant union or organization.
  • Pursuing legal action.
  • Withholding rent for uninhabitable rental units.

Landlord retaliatory conduct includes:

  • Interrupting any utility service (i.e., water, electricity, heat, etc.) that the tenant is entitled to.
  • Preventing reasonable access to the property (i.e., changing the locks).
  • Recovering possession from the property.

Retaliation is when the landlord does any of the above actions within 180 days of when the tenant has exercised their legal right.

Consequences of Illegal Evictions

Retaliatory conduct is considered as a “self-help” eviction and is illegal in California. Landlords who are found guilty of retaliation can be sued by their tenants. If a landlord retaliates against a tenant, the tenant may seek actual damages, punitive damage, and attorneys’ fees.

Landlords must have legal reason to pursue an eviction action and cannot terminate a lease agreement without cause. In California, landlords must win the eviction lawsuit to legally remove a tenant.

Removing a Squatter

If the individual occupying the property does not have a lease (or verbal agreement) with the landlord and no history of paying rent, they do not have a landlord/tenant relationship, and as a result, the process for their removal is different.

Click here to learn more about the differences in the legal processes for removing tenants and squatters in California.

Step 1: Notice is Posted

Each reason for eviction has its own type of eviction notice form:

  • 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit – for failing to pay rent.
  • 30/60 Day Notice to Quit – for no lease / end of the lease. Amount of notice varies based on how often rent is paid.
  • 90-Day Notice to Quit – for a rental property that is foreclosed upon.
  • 3-Day Notice to Cure or Vacate – for fixable (“curable”) violations (i.e., not maintaining the rental unit in a clean and sanitary manner, unauthorized pets, etc.).
  • 3-Day Unconditional Quit Notice – for incurable violations (i.e., illegal activity, excessive damage to the property, non-criminal nuisances, criminal activity, etc.).

To fill out, download and print any of the above forms, click here.

The notice must be served to the tenant by one of the following methods:

  1. The landlord can deliver the notice in person.
  1. The landlord can leave the notice with a resident of the rental property who is over 18 years old AND mail a copy to the rental unit.
  2. The notice can be posted to the door AND mail a copy via registered mail.
  3. Mailing the notice via registered mail can only be used when ending a month-to-month tenancy with a 30 or 60 day notice to quit.

Once proper notice is posted, the tenant has that number of days to pay the unpaid amount, cure the issue and/or vacate the premises. If they don’t, the landlord may proceed with the next step of the eviction process.

Questions? To chat with a California eviction attorney, Click here

Step 2: Complaint is Filed and Served

If the notice period ends and the tenant remains on the property, the next step in the eviction process requires the landlord to file a Complaint (also known as an Unlawful Detainer) and Summons with the Superior Court of the applicable county in California. In most counties, this costs between $240 and $435 in filing fees.

The complaint should include the following information:

  • Landlord and tenant contact information.
  • The county where the property is located.
  • The rental property address.
  • The type of tenancy (i.e., monthly, etc.).
  • The type of lease agreement (i.e., written, oral, etc.).
  • If the tenancy is subject to the Tenant Protection Act of 2019.
  • The grounds for eviction (i.e., nonpayment of rent, lease violation, etc.).
  • The type of notice that was served, the date of service, and the method of delivery service.
  • The landlord’s demand requests (i.e., possession, rent due, attorney’s fees, damages, etc.).
  • If the tenancy is subject to rent control.

Additionally, if applicable, the following documents should be attached to the complaint for the court’s records:

  • A copy of the lease or rental agreement (if there is one) and any written changes the tenant agreed to.
  • A copy of the eviction notice.
  • A copy of written proof that notice was given (i.e., return receipt for mailer, etc.).

Some courts in California have additional local forms to complete, so please check with the court clerk’s office for any additional requirements.

Step 3: Summons and Complaint are Served

The Summons and Complaint can be served on the tenant by anyone who is at least 18 years old and not part of the case (i.e., marshal, sheriff, registered process server, etc.). The landlord must have the tenant served within 60 days of filing the Complaint, or the case could be dismissed by the court. The individual who serves the tenant must complete a Proof of Service of Summons form which must be filed with the Court Clerk.

The Summons and Complaint may be served by one of the following methods:

  1. Giving a copy of the Summons and Complaint to the tenant in person;
  2. Leaving a copy of the Summons and Complaint with the person in charge during normal business hours at the tenant’s place of work and mailing a copy of the summons and complaint by first-class mail; or
  3. Posting a copy of the Summons and Complaint in a conspicuous place on the rental unit.

If the summons and complaint are left with someone other than the tenant, or posted on the rental property, then a copy must also be mailed to the tenant for service to be considered “complete.”

Once the Summons and Complaint have been served, the tenant has a chance to respond.

Clock   on iPropertyManagement.comWithin 60 Days. The eviction action could be dismissed if the landlord doesn’t serve tenant within 60 days of filing the Complaint.

Step 4: Answer is Filed

In California, tenants are not required to file a formal, written answer to an eviction complaint. If the tenant chooses to fight and challenge the eviction, the process can take much longer and can include a number of additional steps (i.e., the judge might order for both parties to appear at a hearing).

The answer must be filed within five business days and an additional ten days are given for delivery by mail.

To challenge the eviction the tenant should be prepared to write down the reasons why he or she shouldn’t be forced to move out. The answers should be given both the Court Clerk and the landlord.

After the appropriate time has expired, the landlord then has three options:

  1. If the tenant failed to respond, the landlord can ask for a default judgment without having to go to a court hearing, which could take a few days to a few weeks, depending on the judicial officer’s schedule.
  2. If the tenant failed to respond, the landlord can get an immediate order of possession from the clerk of court’s office. It is important to note that this can only be done if the landlord is not asking for back rent/other monies owed.
  3. If the tenant did respond, the landlord must file a request for a hearing, asking the court to set a hearing date for the eviction.

Both the default judgment and the order of possession bypass the hearing; therefore, the tenant will not have the opportunity to present their case for why they should be allowed to remain in the rental unit.

Clock   on iPropertyManagement.com 5-15 Days, depending how the tenant was served with the summons and complaint.

Step 5: Court Hearing and Judgment

Once the landlord files a request for hearing, the eviction hearing will be scheduled within 20 days of the date the request was filed.

To prepare for the hearing the landlord and tenant should bring the following:

  • A copy of the lease agreement.
  • A copy of the notice to quit or to pay.
  • The complaint.
  • Any evidence (i.e., photos of damage, receipts, billing statements, etc.) or witnesses to help prove the case in court.

The landlord or tenant could possibly request an extension. The decision is granted or denied by the judicial officer.

Regardless if the eviction was contested or not, if the judge rules in favor of the landlord, a Writ of Execution will be subsequently issued and the process will proceed.

In California, filing an appeal will not stop the eviction. The only way a tenant can stop an eviction is to request a Stay of Execution after receiving the Writ of Execution in accordance with Step 6 below.

Clock   on iPropertyManagement.comApproximately 20 Days. The hearing will be scheduled for a date within 20 days of the date the request for hearing was filed by the landlord.

Step 6: Writ of Execution Is Issued

The Writ of Execution is the tenant’s final notice to leave the premises and allows the tenant the opportunity to remove their belongings before the sheriff returns to the property to forcibly remove the tenant. The filing fee is around $40 to issue a Writ of Execution.

If the court has ruled in the landlord’s favor, the landlord will ask the court to issue a Writ of Execution and shall be issued at the hearing.

Clock   on iPropertyManagement.comA Few Hours to a Few Days. The landlord must request the writ of execution, but it can be issued the same day as the hearing.

Step 7: Possession of Property is Returned

Tenants have five days to move out once they have been served with a copy of the Writ of Execution. If a tenant does not move out within that period, the sheriff will return and forcibly remove them.

It’s possible for tenants to request a stay of execution, which would delay the eviction for an additional 40 days. If granted by the court, this will only put off the eviction, not prevent it, and the tenant will still need to move out after the 40 days has ended.

Clock   on iPropertyManagement.comFive Days. The tenant has five days to move out of the rental unit after being served with the writ of execution. This process can be delayed by up to 40 additional days if a stay is requested.

Court Fees

To file an eviction lawsuit with the court, there are filing fees that need to be paid and vary in each county, please check with your local court to verify the filing fee. Typically, in California, court fees depend on the amount the landlord is suing for. Below are the general filing fee costs:

The Amount the Landlord is Suing for The Average Cost of Filing Fees
Suing Less Than $10,000 $240
Suing Between $10,000 to $25,000 $385
Suing Between Over $25,000 $435

It is important to note that San Bernardino, San Francisco and Riverside counties have higher filing fees.

California Eviction Process Timeline

Below is a summary of the aspects outside of the landlord’s control that dictate the amount of time it takes to evict a tenant in California. With that being said, these estimates can vary greatly, and some time periods may not include weekends or legal holidays.

  1. Initial Notice Period – Between 3 and 90 days, depending on the reason for eviction.
  2. Issuance/Service of Summons and Petition – Within 60 days of filing the complaint.
  3. Answer is Filed – 5-15 days, depending on how the tenant was served with the summons and complaint.
  4. Court Hearing and Ruling on the Eviction – Approximately 20 days after the request for hearing is filed.
  5. Issuance of Writ of Execution – A few hours to a few days.
  6. Return of Possession – Five days, unless a 40-day stay is granted.
Questions? To chat with a California eviction attorney, Click here

Additional Information

Single Lodger in a Private Residence. A single tenant who lives in a room in a home where the owner also resides is considered a “lodger.” The owner has the right to evict the lodger without using formal eviction proceedings.  The owner shall give the single lodger written notice to leave the premises. The notice time frame must be the same as the number of days between rent payments (e.g., 30 days). After proper notice is given to the lodger, the lodger must take all of their personal possessions and leave the premises.

Flowchart of California Eviction Process

California Eviction Process Flowchart on iPropertyManagement.com

For additional questions about the eviction process in California, please refer to the official state legislation, California Civil Code §§1940-1954 and 3479-3486.5 and the California Code of Civil Procedure, §§415.10,715, and 1159-1179a,for more information.

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