California Eviction Law

Posted by Christopher Berkompas in California

Note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not intended as legal advice.

Under what circumstances may a tenant be evicted?

A landlord may terminate a month-to-month lease for any reason by giving the tenant 30 to 60 days advance written notice.  However, he may not do so if he is acting in retaliation for a repair request on the part of the tenant.

A landlord may also seek to evict the tenant prior to the end of the lease, but only if the tenant has done one of the following:

  • Failed to pay the rent.
  • Violated any provision of the lease or rental agreement.
  • Significantly damaged the rental property.
  • Substantially interfered with other tenants.
  • Used the rental property for an unlawful purpose.

What is the process for evicting a tenant?

First, the landlord must notify (3-day) the tenant to leave the property.  If the tenant refuses the leave, the landlord may file an "unlawful" detainer lawsuit with the superior court, asking that the tenant be evicted and stating his reasons.  The tenant will then be served papers, to which he has 5 days to respond in writing, or the landlord will win the case by default.  At trial, the court will hear both sides of evidence, and usually will render judgment within 20 days of the tenant filing his response.  

Obviously, if the tenant wins, he will be allowed to remain and continue under the terms of the lease agreement as before.  On the other hand, if the landlord wins the case, the tenant will be ordered to leave the rental property.  If he fails to do so, the landlord may obtain a writ of possession, which after giving the tenant an additional 5 days, will allow the local sheriff to forcibly remove him.

The landlord may only evict the tenant through the sheriff.  If he uses unlawful methods to do so, he will be liable for the tenant's damages as well as $100 per day for the time that the landlord used the unlawful methods.


How are landlords supposed to deal with tenant belongings left behind?

If the landlord obtains a writ of possession, and the sheriff ultimately has to remove the tenant from the property, the sheriff may remove them or have the landlord store them. In the latter case, the landlord may charge the tenant a reasonable storage fee.  If the tenant does not reclaim his belongings within 18 days, the landlord must mail him a reminder to do so, and then can sell them at auction.  Also, if their value is under $300, he may keep them for himself.

Can the landlord shut off utilities or lock a tenant out prior to the completion of the eviction process?

Not if his purpose is to inconvenience the tenant in hopes of getting rid of him.  The landlord cannot physically remove or lock out the tenant himself; he must go through a court of law.  Key utilities, such as water and electricity may also not be turned off except if necessary to conduct a truly necessary repair, or in the case of a real emergency.

Are landlords required to let tenants know why they are being evicted?

In the case of terminating a month-to-month lease, the landlord generally does not have to give a reason.  However, some cities may require that the landlord have "just cause" in order to terminate the lease.

However, when the landlord's goal is the eviction of the tenant, and this is due to failure to pay rent, the landlord must inform the tenant of the following in his 3-day advance notice:

  • The amount of rent owed.
  • The name, address and telephone number of the person to whom the rent must be paid.  Optionally, the notice may state the name, street address and account number of the financial institution where the rent payment may be made (if the institution is within five miles of the unit).
  • If the payment must be made in person, the usual days and hours that the person is available to receive the rent payment.

The purpose of this information is to allow the tenant a last chance to pay his due before a legal process of eviction can take place against him.  Essentially, the landlord must give the tenant a chance to address his violation, if possible.

Is it legal for the landlord to deduct legal fees and court costs from the security deposit?

No.  The security deposit can only be applied to repairing the property or against back rent if the tenant leaves the property.

Can the landlord try to collect unpaid rent for the rest of the time left in the lease?

This is left up to the court's discretion.  It may choose to force the tenant to pay back rent, court costs, and the landlord's attorney's fees.  Also, if the court finds the tenant acted maliciously in remaining in the rental property, the court may award the landlord $600 as a penalty.  However, it is important to remember that only the court can impose these penalties, and if it chooses not to, the landlord has no other remedy.


  1. DCA Landlord / Tenant Book
  2. DCA Landlord / Tenant Book on Evictions
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