The Basic Steps to Evict a Tenant in California

One of the greatest challenges — and risks — of being a landlord is dealing with problem tenants. No matter how tight your tenant screening process is, you can still end up with renters who aren’t able to pay rent or who are different than you initially expected. Sometimes, difficult tenants become so problematic that you may be forced to evict them, which can be a challenging and unpleasant process. However, if you are a landlord in California and want to make evicting a tenant as pain-free and smooth as possible, it can help to arm yourself with a knowledge of the eviction process. Here are the basic steps of eviction in the state.

1. Ensure You Have a Legal Reason to Evict

Before you move to evict someone, you should make sure that you have a legal reason to do so. In California, there are many reasons a landlord can evict a tenant, including failure to pay the rent, violation of the lease, using a property for illegal purposes and more. (Check out a complete list from the California Department of Consumer Affairs here.) Make sure you have documented proof of the violation before moving to evict.

2. Serve a Formal Notice of Eviction

If you have a legal reason to evict your tenant and you want to move forward with the eviction, you should serve them a notice of eviction to let them know. The notice should be personally delivered to the tenant. If it’s not possible to reach them, the notice should be affixed to the door of the unit, and also sent to them via certified mail. For failure to pay rent in California, landlords can give tenants three days to fix the problem.

4. File and Deliver the Proper Paperwork

If the notice of eviction is delivered and the problem is not corrected, you can begin the legal process to remove them from your property. To do so, file all the proper paperwork at your local courthouse (in the county where the rental property is located). You’ll need to submit three separate forms: an unlawful detainer complaint, a pre-judgment right of possession form and a civil case cover sheet. You will also need to pay a fee. Once the proper paperwork has been submitted, you’ll be given a copy of your complaint and a summons by the courthouse clerk. You must then deliver the summons and complaint to the tenant.

5. Await the Tenant Response

Once the tenant has been served a summons, you must wait for their response. Tenants have five days to either vacate the property, challenge your lawsuit by filing a response with the court or do nothing.

6. Go to Court

If the tenant does not leave within five days, request a court date from the judge. Before the court date, gather any and all legal documents relating to the rental, as well as physical proof of a failure to pay (e.g., bounced checks). This will help you prove your case against the tenant, and challenge any defense mounted by the tenant.

7. Have the Sheriff Serve a Vacate Notice

If the tenant loses the trial, you should have the sheriff in your county serve the tenant with a Five Day to Vacate notice. This means that they now have five days to move out of your property. If they do not move out after five days, you can have the sheriff physically lock the tenant out of the space.
Ultimately, evicting a tenant can be a challenging and emotionally-taxing process. However, doing a thorough screening of tenants before they move in, as well as communicating openly and directly with tenants while they live there, can help ensure it’s a problem you never have to face. Building a good relationship with tenants often means you’ll never have to remove them — or that they’ll leave willingly should a problematic situation ever arise.