July 14, 2023

California Eviction Laws: What Tenants and Landlords Need to Know

Explore California's eviction laws and understand tenant and landlord rights. Get an overview of legal complexities, processes, and resources of evictions.

California Eviction Laws: What Tenants and Landlords Need to Know

Evictions can be complex and emotionally charged, significantly affecting all parties involved. In California, known for its robust tenant protections, it is especially important for both landlords and renters to grasp the intricacies of eviction laws. By understanding these laws, you can confidently navigate the eviction process, ensuring the protection of your rights and interests.

A solid understanding of California eviction laws is essential for rental property owners to safeguard their investments and maintain legal compliance. By familiarizing themselves with the specific procedures and requirements outlined in these laws, landlords can navigate the eviction process effectively, minimizing the risk of legal consequences.

Similarly, tenants facing potential eviction greatly benefit from being educated on California eviction laws. They provide strong protections, ensuring that tenants' rights are upheld and offering avenues for legal recourse when necessary. By being aware of their rights, tenants can respond appropriately to eviction notices, seek assistance when needed, and assert their legal entitlements.

This article serves to unravel the complexities of California eviction laws and equip real estate investors and renters with the knowledge they need to navigate tenant notice and eviction proceedings. 

Evictions overview: Basic definitions and terminology

Understanding the eviction laws in California requires a working knowledge of certain terminologies related to eviction. Here are some important terms:

  • Notice: A formal communication from the landlord outlining the corrective action tenants are expected to take. The notice allows the tenant to either settle any outstanding rent, rectify a breach in the lease agreement, or vacate the property.
  • Termination of tenancy: This is the first step in the eviction process. The landlord must let the tenant know that they are ending the tenancy before they can file an eviction lawsuit.
  • Unlawful detainer: An unlawful detainer is a lawsuit to evict the tenant. If the tenant receives a 3-, 30-, 60-, or 90-day notice and doesn't take action, the rental property owner can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit against them.
  • Just cause: The Tenant Protection Act prohibits rental property owners from evicting most tenants without "just cause." There are two kinds of evictions: "at-fault" evictions and "no-fault" evictions. At-fault evictions can arise from unpaid rent, significant lease breaches, nuisance behaviors, illegal activities, or denial of the owner's lawful entry. Conversely, no-fault evictions occur when the owner intends to occupy the unit, remove it from the rental market, or undertake substantial renovations.
  • Wrongful eviction: A wrongful eviction is an eviction that fails to follow the requirements of California's unlawful detainer statute or does not follow this statute's provisions but is based on fraudulent actions or intent.
  • Writ of possession: A landlord can obtain a writ of possession if a tenant does not voluntarily leave the premises after an eviction judgment. This court order authorizes the local sheriff or law enforcement officer to remove the tenant and their belongings from the property forcibly.

Understanding California eviction laws

California eviction laws, governed by the California Civil Code, establish guidelines and procedures that ensure a fair and regulated process for rental property owners and tenants. These laws outline the rights and responsibilities of both parties involved and play a crucial role in maintaining a fair landlord-tenant relationship.

The California Civil Code Section 1940 - 1954.05 serves as a comprehensive resource for understanding the legal framework surrounding eviction processes in the state. Rental property owners must familiarize themselves with these provisions to ensure compliance with the law throughout the eviction process, protecting both their interests and the rights of their tenants.

Scenarios under which a landlord can legally evict a tenant

In California, rental property owners have the legal right to evict tenants under specific circumstances. Let's explore some examples:

  • Nonpayment of rent: If a tenant fails to pay rent on time, the landlord may pursue eviction.
  • Lease violations: When a tenant breaches the terms of the lease agreement or causes damage to the rental property, the landlord can proceed with eviction.
  • End of lease: After the expiration of the lease term, if the tenant remains in the rental unit, the landlord can initiate eviction proceedings.
  • Cancellation of rental agreement: If the landlord cancels the rental agreement by providing proper notice in compliance with the law, they can proceed with eviction.
  • Abandonment: In situations where the tenant is overdue on rent for 14 or more consecutive days, and the landlord has reasonable grounds to believe that the tenant has moved out without communication, this is considered "abandonment," allowing the landlord to initiate the eviction process.

Take note that the location of the rental unit can have implications on the eviction process. California cities with rent control regulations might offer additional safeguards for tenants, narrowing down the valid reasons for eviction. Moreover, landlords aren't allowed to resort to "self-help" evictions; practices like locking tenants out, cutting off utilities, or forcibly removing a tenant from the property are strictly forbidden. In order to carry out a legal eviction, landlords are required to adhere to the due legal process, which includes filing a lawsuit.

For a tenant who has been occupying the property for less than a year, a 30-day eviction notice from the landlord is the standard protocol. Tenants who have lived on the property longer necessitate a 60-day notice from the landlord. Strict adherence to these procedures is crucial for landlords to sidestep potential legal difficulties.

It's also vital to recognize that, in line with landlords across the US, California landlords are prohibited from evicting tenants on discriminatory or retaliatory grounds. Federal legislation bars evictions based on race, religion, sex, national origin, family status, disability, or in response to a tenant exercising their legal rights, such as reporting unsafe living conditions or joining a tenants’ union.

The eviction process in California

The eviction process typically takes 30 to 45 days in California, although it can sometimes take longer. The timeline starts when the landlord delivers the eviction court forms to the tenant, specifying the deadline for them to vacate the property.

1. Issue a written notice

To initiate the eviction process, the landlord must first give the tenant a written notice, known as a "Notice to Quit." The type of notice required depends on the reason for eviction. For instance, if the tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord can serve a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. If the tenant violates the lease agreement, the property owner can serve a three-day notice to cure or quit. An unconditional three-day notice to quit may be used for severe lease violations or illegal activities.

2. File an eviction lawsuit

Once the notice has been served, the landlord can proceed with filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit. This involves submitting various forms, such as the Summons, Complaint, and Plaintiff's Mandatory Cover Sheet, to the Superior Court in the county where the rental property is located. The filing fee for an unlawful detainer suit typically ranges from $240 to $450, depending on the court.

3. Serve the lawsuit to the tenant

After filing the lawsuit, the landlord must ensure that the eviction paperwork is served on the tenant by someone over 18 who is not involved in the case. Proper service is crucial to ensure the tenant receives the documents within the required timeframe.

4. Attend court proceedings

The tenant then has a specific period to respond to the eviction lawsuit, usually five or 15 days, depending on the service method. If the tenant responds, a trial or hearing will be scheduled where both sides can present their arguments. If the tenant fails to respond or reply, the landlord can request a default judgment, which grants the landlord's request to evict the tenant without further input.

5. Receive a judgment

A Judgment of Possession will be signed if the court rules in favor of the rental property owner. This judgment authorizes the landlord to proceed with the eviction process. The landlord must obtain a writ of execution from the court, which allows the sheriff's office to carry out the physical eviction if the tenant fails to vacate the property voluntarily.

Landlords must comply with the eviction rules outlined in the California Civil Code. Failure to follow the proper procedures or engage in illegal self-help eviction measures can lead to legal consequences. 

Tenant's rights in the eviction process

In California, tenants have rights that protect them from unfair treatment or unlawful eviction. These include:

  • Lawful eviction process: The only legal eviction method involves initiating a court proceeding. Tenants are entitled to stay in their homes until a legal directive from a court compels them to vacate. It is not within a landlord's rights to resort to tactics such as altering the locks, discontinuing utilities, or extracting personal belongings to coerce a tenant into leaving.
  • Just cause protections: The Tenant Protection Act of 2019 requires a landlord to have a valid reason to evict renters so long as they have lived in the rental housing for at least 12 months.
  • Compliance with rules and procedures: Landlords must carefully follow all the rules and procedures required by California law when evicting a tenant. Suppose there is a procedural error, such as not giving the tenant enough notice of the termination. In that case, the court will dismiss the unlawful detainer lawsuit, the tenant can remain in the rental (for the time being), and the landlord must restart the termination and eviction process.
  • Legal grounds for eviction: Tenants cannot be evicted unlawfully in the state of California. However, a rental property owner has the right to evict a tenant after failing to pay rent on time or other violations listed above. After finding probable cause for the eviction process, the landlord can file a complaint in court to evict their tenants.

By understanding and adhering to these guidelines, landlords and tenants can better navigate the eviction process in California, ensuring all interactions are legal and fair. Remember, while the above gives a general overview of the eviction process, landlords and tenants should consult a legal professional for advice on specific situations.

Advice for California rental property owners and tenants

California’s eviction laws pose significant responsibilities to both property owners and renters. Here are some noteworthy guidelines to observe:

For landlords:

  • Adhere to the law: In California, evictions require a court case. Unlawful lockouts, such as changing locks or shutting off power, can result in severe legal penalties, including potential lawsuits by tenants.
  • Secure legal assistance: Following the correct eviction process and rules is crucial to avoiding procedural errors like inadequate notice that dismiss the eviction lawsuit. 
  • Justify evictions: Renters living in the dwelling for over 12 months are protected by "just cause" provisions. Evictions must be grounded on valid reasons like rent arrears or significant lease agreement violations.

For tenants:

  • Understand your rights: California laws favor tenants. They can live in safe rental units, sue landlords for retaliation, withhold rent for non-provision of essential services, and recoup attorney's fees.
  • Read your lease agreement: Be clear about the terms of your agreement, including rent amount, due date, and potential late payment penalties.
  • Maintain open communication: Address any concerns or issues with your rental unit in writing to your landlord and retain copies.
  • Document all interactions: Keep records of all communications with your landlord and capture any problems with your rental unit.
  • Seek legal advice: If facing eviction or needing legal clarity, consult a real estate professional or a lawyer.

Landlords and tenants must familiarize themselves with their rights and obligations as per federal and state laws and city-specific regulations. Adhering to these rules in all landlord-tenant interactions is the best way to protect your interests.

Key takeaways on California eviction laws

A comprehensive understanding of California eviction laws is crucial for property owners and renters to navigate the eviction process confidently and protect their respective rights. These laws, governed by the California Civil Code, establish guidelines and procedures that ensure a fair and regulated process for all parties involved.

A thorough grasp of eviction laws enables investors to safeguard their investments, maintain legal compliance, and mitigate the risk of legal repercussions. By following proper procedures, providing required notices, and seeking legal guidance when needed, landlords can effectively and fairly navigate the eviction process.

Tenants, too, greatly benefit from being knowledgeable about their rights under California eviction laws. These laws provide robust protections to ensure their rights are respected and provide avenues for legal recourse if necessary. By understanding their rights, tenants can respond to eviction notices appropriately, seek assistance when needed, and assert their legal entitlements.

This article aims to unravel the complexities of California eviction laws, offering valuable insights to landlords and tenants. By providing information on the legal framework, tenant notice requirements, eviction procedures, and their respective rights and responsibilities, our goal is to provide a valuable resource to facilitate informed decision-making within California eviction laws.

Additional California eviction resources

For more detailed information about eviction laws in California, refer to the California Civil Code, particularly Section 1940 - 1954.05, which outlines the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants.

Legal aid resources available in California include organizations such as Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Bay Area Legal Aid, and Legal Services of Northern California. These organizations offer free or low-cost legal assistance to individuals facing housing issues, including evictions.

Other resources, like the California Courts Self-Help Center, provide valuable information and resources for tenants and landlords. They offer guides on responding to eviction notices, filing an answer in court, and understanding the eviction process.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs also provides helpful resources and information on landlord-tenant rights and responsibilities, including a guidebook for tenants and landlords.

It's important to utilize these resources to understand California eviction laws better and seek legal guidance to ensure your rights are protected and you navigate the eviction process correctly.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials are for general informational purposes only. This content may not constitute the most up-to-date legal information. No reader, user, or browser of this article should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information herein without first seeking the advice of a legal professional.

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