California Eviction Process

Last Updated: October 18, 2021 by Elizabeth Souza

NOTE: Between October 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, a landlord who seeks to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent that was due and unpaid between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2022 on a lease that began before October 1, 2021, must apply for rental assistance before the court will issue a summons.

Timeline. Evicting a tenant in California can take about five to eight weeks (or more) depending on the reason for the eviction, and how (or how quickly) the tenant was served the summons and complaint. If tenants request a stay of execution, the process can take longer (read more).

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

Introduction. California has specific rules and regulations for eviction cases. Legally a landlord can evict a tenant in California by filing an eviction lawsuit with the court and receiving a court order allowing the eviction to occur. Below are the grounds for eviction in California.

Step 1: Notice is Posted

In California, there must be grounds for eviction in order to proceed with the court. Landlords in California can begin the eviction process for several reasons, including:

  1. Nonpayment of Rent – Once rent is past due, the tenant must be given the option to pay rent in order to avoid eviction.
  2. Violation of Lease Terms / Rental Agreement – If a tenant violates a provision of a written lease/rental agreement, the landlord must give the tenant the opportunity to correct the issue (if curable) before moving forward with the eviction process.
  3. No Lease / End of Lease Term (Tenant at Will) – Landlords in rent-controlled cities cannot evict tenants once the rental period/term of the lease has ended without some other cause; in all other areas, notice is only required for month-to-month tenancies.
  4. Foreclosure of Rental Property – If the rental property is being foreclosed upon, and the tenancy will not be continued, landlords are required to give written notice prior to evicting the tenant.
  5. Illegal Activity – If a tenant or any other occupant of the rental unit is engaged in illegal activity, notice must be served on the tenant before the landlord can evict the tenant.
NOTES
  • Retaliatory Evictions. It is illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant for complaining to the landlord or to the appropriate local or government agency regarding the property. It is also illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant for joining, supporting, or organizing a tenant organization or union.
  • Evicting a Squatter. If the individual occupying the property did not have the permission of the landlord when initially moving in, does not have a lease (or verbal agreement) and has no history of paying rent, then a landlord/tenant relationship may not be established. As a result, the normal eviction process may not be applicable (read more).

Each possible ground for eviction has its own rules for how the process starts.

Eviction Process for Nonpayment of Rent

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

According to California law, rent is late the day after it’s due. Any grace periods are addressed in the lease/rental agreement.

Once rent is past due, the landlord must provide a 3-Day Notice to Pay if the landlord wants to pursue an eviction case with the court. This notice gives the tenant the option to pay the past due amount in full within three days in order to avoid eviction.

However, the eviction notice must not include any amount owed other than rent (like late fees, interest, etc.).

If the tenant does not pay the rent due by the end of the notice period and remains on the property, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

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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.

California landlords must provide tenants with a 3-Day Notice to Comply giving the tenant three days to correct or otherwise known as “cure” the issue in order to avoid eviction.

Typical lease violations under this category could include things like having a pet when there is a specific no-pet policy, negligently or deliberately damaging the rental property, or having too many people residing in the rental unit.

Some violations may not be curable, such as “waste” (causing property damage) or non-criminal nuisances. Note that illegal activity is not included in this category.

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

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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; or
  • If the rental unit is part of a job package, and the tenant loses the job or quits.

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 is dependent 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.

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

For month-to-month tenancies, if the tenant remains on the property after the notice period expires, the landlord may proceed with the eviction process.

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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 being evicted due to sale or foreclosure must move out, and do not have the option to “cure” an issue in order to stay.

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

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Eviction Process for Illegal Activity

Tenants of a rental unit who are involved in illegal activity must be given 3 days’ notice 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.

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Step 2: Petition is Filed and Served

As the next step in the eviction process, California landlords must file a complaint in the appropriate court. In California, this can cost between $385 and $435 in filing fees and an additional $40 to issue a writ of execution.

The summons and eviction complaint can be served on the tenant by anyone who is at least 18 years old and not part of the case. The summons and complaint shall be served by a marshal, sheriff, or registered process server. The landlord must have the tenant served within 60 days of filing the complaint, or the case could be dismissed by the court.

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 if there is no known address and mailing a copy of the summons and complaint by first-class mail, postage prepaid to where the copy was left; 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 in order for service to be considered “complete.”

Once the summons and complaint have been served, the tenant has a chance to respond to the complaint.

Within 60 days. The eviction action could be dismissed if the landlord doesn’t serve tenant within 60 days of filing the complaint.

Step 3: Answer is Filed

In California, tenants are not required to file a formal, written answer to an eviction complaint; however, a landlord is required to wait out the legally required “answer period” before proceeding with the eviction process.

If the tenant doesn’t respond, the court may issue a default judgment in favor of the landlord.

Tenants who were served with the summons and complaint in person have five business days to respond to the complaint prior to a court hearing.

For all other types of service, the tenant has five days plus the additional 10 days required for service by mail to be considered “complete,” for a total of 15 days to respond.

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.

If the tenant does file a written answer, the eviction process shall continue with a hearing.

5-15 days, Depending how the tenant was served with the summons and complaint.

Step 4: 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.

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

If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, a writ of execution shall be issued and the eviction 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 of Step 5 below.

Approximately 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 5: 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.

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.

A 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 6: 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.

Five 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.

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 – 5 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.

Tenant’s Remedies for Illegal Eviction. A tenant may receive damages for an illegal eviction by the landlord (e.g. discrimination, improper eviction process, not maintaining the rental unit, etc.). The tenant may sue in Civil Court or Small Claims Court and could possibly recover the following:

  • Actual damages which include out-of-pocket costs (i.e. hotel bills if the tenant has to find a place to stay due to the landlord cutting off utility services); and
  • Punitive damages in an amount of $100 or and no more than $2,000 for each retaliatory act where the landlord has been guilty of fraud, oppression, or malice.
  • Court costs
  • Attorney’s fees

Flowchart of California Eviction Process

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.