Unlawful Detainer – The Basics of Evicting A Tenant


Evicting a tenant? Unlawful detainer explained! Learn grounds, notices, court & legal advice. Know your state’s eviction laws!

A powerful tool available to California landlords is the expedited unlawful detainer eviction process (commonly referred to as a “UD”).  Unlike other civil actions, which frequently take a year from filing until trial, a UD often takes less than 30 days from filing to trial.  However, this quick timeframe assumes that both the landlord and its counsel follow all of the UD procedures to the letter.  Below is a short summary of those procedures. It must be kept in mind that you cannot just evict anyone. Do locate a  notary public near me for further queries.

In general, a landlord can file a UD complaint in California Superior Court against a tenant in possession of premises whose lease has terminated, either by its terms or by proper notice to the tenant.  Unlike most other state court actions in which a defendant has 30 days to respond, a tenant only has 5 days to respond to a UD complaint.  If the tenant fails to respond, the landlord can immediately file a request for entry of default judgment, which the clerk will commonly issue within a week.  If the tenant answers the UD complaint, the landlord is entitled (upon written request) to a trial date within 20 days.

At a UD trial, the judge or jury hears evidence from both sides (just like in any other civil trial), and determines if the landlord is entitled to possession.  If so, the court will issue a judgment in favor of the landlord for possession of the premises, for any rent due, for reasonable attorneys fees (if such fees are recoverable under the parties’ lease/agreement), and prejudgment interest and court costs.

After receiving a judgment, the landlord next needs to obtain a writ of possession from the clerk of the court, which can take one to two weeks to issue.  The writ is the document that is filed with the local sheriffs’ department, and which formally directs the sheriff to return possession of the premises to the landlord.  Within approximately a week of receipt, the sheriff will serve the tenant with a 5-day notice to vacate the premises.  If the tenant remains in the premises past that 5-day period, the sheriff will then schedule an eviction as soon as possible thereafter (usually within a week) at which a deputy will remove the tenant from the premises so that the landlord can immediately change the locks and prevent the tenant from re-entering.

Adding all of these steps together, an unopposed UD – from filing to eviction – can be completed in just over a month, and a disputed UD can be completed in less than two months.  However, these timeframes assume all filings are properly completed, promptly filed with the court, and acted on by clerks and the sheriffs’ office timely.  In addition, a savvy tenant can delay a UD through a variety of procedures, including demurring or moving to strike a UD complaint, seeking continuances from the court, and filing for bankruptcy.  In some cases, UD actions can last 6 months or more if a tenant employs all available delay tactics.

Fortunately, competent counsel with experience handling UD actions can quickly and effectively respond to most tenant delay tactics, and the majority of UD judges will require actions to proceed promptly. You can also consult Independant Legal Advice (ILA) for this. However, counsel unfamiliar with the rules and procedures associated with UD court can find themselves and their clients extremely frustrated by unexpected delays, procedures, or requirements.  Therefore, when dealing with a tenant default it is good practice to seek the assistance of an experienced UD attorney.  Such an attorney can make sure that all notices, filings, and procedures are handled correctly, thereby minimizing costs and delays, and helping ensure that possession is returned to the landlord as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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