The Complete Guide To California Eviction Laws

This article explores California eviction laws, covering grounds for eviction, notice requirements for landlords, and tenant rights.

California eviction laws play a crucial role in defining the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants in the state. Both parties must understand these laws to ensure a fair and legal eviction process.

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant in California, familiarizing yourself with the state’s eviction laws is essential for navigating the rental process and ensuring a fair and legal resolution to any disputes.

Related: A Guide to California Landlord Tenant Law

Disclaimer: Please note that the information contained on this pages does not constitute advice. This page is for general informational and educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for competent legal and/or other advice from a licensed professional.

Understanding California Eviction Laws

Eviction laws are strict in California and one misstep along the way could see the case thrown out of court requiring you to start proceedings from the very beginning again and resulting in costly delays. 

The first step towards an eviction is for the landlord to provide a written cure or quit notice to the tenant. The notice period length varies depending on the reason for eviction, such as non-payment of rent or violation of the rental agreement. 

In California, landlords must have a valid reason, or "just cause," (also known as “good cause evictions”) to evict a tenant. Valid reasons include failure to pay rent, violation of lease terms, or engaging in illegal activities. These good-cause evictions help protect tenants from wrongful evictions.

In addition, tenants have the right to defend themselves in court and challenge eviction notices if they believe the eviction is unjust or retaliatory.

To commence an eviction, landlords must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. The tenant will receive a summons and have an opportunity to respond. If the court rules in favor of the landlord, a writ of possession may be issued, allowing the landlord to regain possession of the property.

Overview of California Eviction Laws

California eviction laws guide landlords and tenants through the eviction process, ensuring compliance and protecting the rights of all parties involved.

  1. Valid Reasons for Eviction: Landlords in California can evict tenants for reasons such as non-payment of rent, lease violations, or illegal activities on the property. Proper notice and legal procedures must be followed for each reason.
  2. Notice Requirements: Landlords must serve tenants with a written notice stating the reason for eviction and the deadline for resolving the issue. The notice period varies depending on the reason for eviction.
  3. Eviction Lawsuit: If the tenant does not comply with the notice, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. A court hearing will determine the outcome, and if the ruling favors the landlord, a writ of possession may be issued.
  4. Tenant Protections: California provides tenants with protections, including the right to dispute the eviction, request a jury trial, and challenge the eviction on legal grounds.

Steps in the California Eviction Process:

  1. Give Notice to the Tenant: Landlords must provide a written notice to the tenant specifying the reason for eviction and the time frame to address the issue.
  2. File Forms with the Court: If the tenant does not resolve the issue, the landlord files an unlawful detainer lawsuit with the court.
  3. Serve Paperwork to the Tenant: The tenant must be formally served with the court documents.
  4. Get a Court Trial or Hearing: Both parties present their case in court.
  5. Eviction Judgment: The court issues a judgment based on the hearing.
  6. Removal of the Tenant: If the judgment favors the landlord, a writ of possession is issued, and the tenant may be removed from the property.

Understanding California eviction laws is essential for both landlords and tenants to navigate the process legally and protect their rights.

California Eviction Laws Process

When a landlord has just cause to end a tenancy early, the eviction process can proceed as follows:

Step 1: Notice to Terminate

The landlord must deliver a proper notice to terminate to the tenant. The notice can be:

  • Hand-delivered to the tenant
  • Given to another adult in the rental or at the tenant's place of employment and then mailed to the tenant
  • Posted at the rental and then mailed to the tenant

The landlord or another person over the age of 18 can deliver the notice to terminate to the tenant.

Step 2: Filing an Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit

If the tenant complies with the notice by paying rent or fixing the problem, the landlord cannot file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. If the tenant moves out by the deadline given in the notice, the tenancy ends without the need for an eviction lawsuit.

If the tenant fails to move out or resolve the issue described in the notice, the landlord can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in the superior court of the county where the rental is located. The landlord will file the following forms:

  • Summons—Unlawful Detainer-Eviction
  • Complaint—Unlawful Detainer
  • Plaintiff's Mandatory Cover Sheet and Supplemental Allegations—Unlawful Detainer
  • Civil Case Cover Sheet

Landlords should check with the court clerk for any additional local forms. The filing fee for an unlawful detainer suit ranges from $240 to $450, depending on the court, with fee waivers available for those who cannot afford the filing fee.

Step 3: Serving the Unlawful Detainer Paperwork

After filing the forms, the landlord must have the eviction paperwork served on the tenant by someone over the age of 18 who is not involved in the case. The server must then file a signed Proof of Service form with the court.

The tenant has either 5 or 15 days to respond, depending on how the paperwork was served:

  • 5 days (excluding weekends and holidays) if the server hands the documents personally to the tenant.
  • 15 days (including weekends and holidays) if the documents are handed to someone at the rental other than the tenant and then mailed to the tenant ("substituted service"), or posted at the rental and then mailed to the tenant ("service by posting").

Step 4: Trial or Hearing

If the tenant responds to the landlord's complaint, the landlord can ask the court to set a trial date. Both the landlord and the tenant will present their cases at the trial.

If the tenant does not file an answer, the landlord can request a default judgment, allowing the court to grant the landlord's request to evict the tenant without any input from the tenant. The landlord must serve the tenant with a copy of the judgment if a default judgment is granted.

Step 5: Eviction Judgment

The judge will sign a Judgment of Possession if they find that the landlord has valid reasons to evict the tenant. The judge may also order the tenant to pay owed rent, lawsuit costs, and (if allowed under the lease) attorneys' fees.

Step 6: Removal of the Tenant

Once the court signs a Judgment of Possession, the landlord will have the clerk of the court stamp a Writ of Execution. This writ gives the landlord the authority to direct the sheriff's office to carry out the eviction.

The sheriff will serve the tenant with a Notice to Vacate, ordering them to move out within five days. If the tenant does not comply, the sheriff can physically remove the tenant and their belongings from the rental.

Reasons you Can Evict A Tenant in CA

Terminating a California Tenancy With Good Cause

A landlord can terminate a tenancy early and evict the tenant for several reasons, including failure to pay rent, violating the lease or rental agreement, or committing an illegal act. To initiate the eviction process, the landlord must give the tenant a written notice, known as a "Notice to Quit" in California. The type of notice required depends on the reason for termination.

Notice for Nonpayment of Rent

If the tenant fails to pay rent when it is due in California, the landlord can issue a 3-day notice to pay or quit. This notice informs the tenant that they have three days to pay the full rent amount or move out. 

If the tenant moves out within the three-day period, the landlord can apply the security deposit to cover the unpaid rent and sue the tenant for any remaining balance. If the tenant neither pays the rent nor moves out, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit at the end of the three days (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(2) (2023)).

Notice for Lease Violation That Can Be Fixed

If the tenant violates the lease or rental agreement in a way that can be remedied (for example, by having a pet despite a no-pets policy), the landlord can issue a three-day notice to cure or quit. 

This notice gives the tenant three days (excluding weekends and judicial holidays) to correct the violation or move out. If the tenant moves out within three days, the landlord cannot file an eviction suit but can sue for any rent owed or damages exceeding the security deposit. 

If the tenant fails to correct the violation and does not move out within three days, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(3) (2023)).

Notice for Serious, Unfixable Lease Violations

When a tenant commits a serious violation of the lease or does something that cannot be corrected, the landlord can issue an unconditional 3-day notice to quit. This notice informs the tenant that they must move out of the rental unit within three days of receiving the notice, with no opportunity to fix the violation. 

If the tenant does not move out within three days, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. 

California landlords can use 3-day unconditional quit notices only when a tenant has:

  • Assigned or sublet the rental unit in violation of the lease or rental agreement
  • Caused substantial damage to the property
  • Permitted or created a nuisance at the rental unit
  • Been involved in illegal activity on the rental premises

(Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(4) (2023)) 

Landlords can also use a 3-day unconditional notice to quit when a tenant subject to the Act ignores a three-day notice to cure a correctable lease violation.

Terminating a California Tenancy Without Cause

The rules for terminating a lease without cause depend on whether the tenancy is month-to-month or fixed-term.

Month-to-Month Tenancy

  • Less Than One Year: If a tenant has a month-to-month rental agreement and has lived in the rental unit for less than one year, the landlord must provide a written 30-day notice to end the tenancy. The landlord does not need to provide a reason for the termination but must not do so for discriminatory reasons (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.1 (2023)).
  • More Than One Year: If the tenant has lived in the rental unit for more than one year and is on a month-to-month lease, the landlord must provide a written 60-day notice to end the tenancy (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.1 (2023)).

Both notices must inform the tenant that the tenancy will expire at the end of the notice period and that the tenant must move out by that time.

Fixed-Term Tenancy

  • End of Term: For tenancies longer than month-to-month, the landlord cannot terminate the tenancy without cause before the end of the term. The landlord does not need to give notice to move out at the end of the term unless the lease specifically requires it. For example, if a tenant has a year-long lease that ends in December and has not requested a lease renewal, the landlord does not need to provide notice to move out unless specified in the lease terms.
  • Tenant Occupied for 12 Months or More: If the tenant has lived in the property for 12 months or more, the landlord cannot refuse to renew the lease without just cause.

Good Cause Eviction Requirements

At-Fault Reasons

If the landlord's reason for not renewing the lease is an "at-fault" reason, the landlord must provide one of the following:

  • A 3-day notice to pay rent or quit for nonpayment of rent.
  • A 3-day notice to cure or quit for a curable breach (such as having an unauthorized roommate).
  • A 3-day unconditional notice to quit for a noncurable, serious breach (such as committing or maintaining a public nuisance) (Cal. Civ. Pro. Code § 1161) (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.2 (2023)).

If the tenant does not cure the violation or move out after receiving a 3-day notice to cure or quit, the landlord must then provide a 3-day unconditional notice to quit before filing an eviction lawsuit (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.2 (2023)).

No-Fault Reasons 

If the landlord's reason for not renewing the lease is a "no-fault" reason, the landlord must compensate the tenant as required by law (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.2 (2023)).

California Eviction Timeline

Average Timeline for Evicting a Tenant Legally in California

How long does it typically take to evict a tenant? This depends. If errors are made or if the tenant contests the eviction in court, the timeline will be extended. However, below we outline an average timeline for the eviction process in California.

Notice Received by Tenants

Initial Notice Period: 3-15 days

  • Provide your tenant with a written notice before beginning the eviction process.

Issuance and Posting of Summons and Complaint

Average Timeline: 4-5 days

  • Ensure a third party serves the Summons and Complaint, not you, as the landlord.

Tenant Response Period

Average Timeline: 5 business days

  • Wait for the tenant's response. The tenant's action or inaction will determine the next step.

Court Ruling on the Eviction and Posting of Writ of Possession

Average Timeline: 5 days

  • If you win the case, the judge will issue a Judgment of Possession and a Writ of Execution. The sheriff will then serve the tenant with a notice to vacate.

Return of Possession

Average Timeline: Within 24 hours

  • If the court allows the tenant to remain in the rental after filing a Stay of Execution, the tenant must pay rent for the extended stay.

Important Things to Remember

  • The eviction process involves several steps and legal requirements.
  • Proper service of notices and documents is crucial.
  • Court involvement and tenant responses can affect the overall timeline.

The total duration of the eviction process then can range from 18 to 31 days on average. However, this timeline can be longer if there are delays in any of the steps or if the tenant contests the eviction in court.

Preparing Evidence for Eviction Hearing in California

1. Keep good records

If the tenant contests the initiation of the eviction process and responds to the court, it's crucial to maintain meticulous records. These records serve as evidence before the judge and are pivotal for winning your case. Insufficient documentation can severely undermine your eviction request in case of a dispute.

To stay organized, consider the following:

  1. Physical Paper Trail: While traditional, maintaining physical records can be cumbersome. Paper documents are hard to search through, occupy significant storage space, and are susceptible to loss, damage, theft, or fire.
  2. Document Scanning: Digitize every document by scanning them into your computer. 
  3. Backups: Store and back up all files using cloud storage options like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive. Digital backups are more efficient and easily searchable compared to physical records.
  4. Property Management Software (PMS): Utilize property management software like Landlord Studio to store lease agreements, signed documents, violations, emails, notes, invoices, payments, reminders, maintenance requests, pictures, videos, and more. 

2. Evidence to show for not paying rent

In the event of a dispute over unpaid rent, it's essential to provide the judge with the following evidence:

  1. Lease Agreement: Present the lease agreement outlining the terms, rent due dates, and any penalties for late payments.
  2. Payment Records: Provide documentation of all previous rent payments, including the method of payment (check, credit card, ACH, etc.), and the dates of payment.
  3. Payment Returns: If the tenant's payment method failed, such as bounced checks, insufficient funds in their bank account, or a credit card chargeback dispute, present evidence to the judge. Include any bank fees incurred and penalties as stipulated in the lease agreement.
  4. Communication Records: Show any communication with the tenant regarding rent payment reminders. This could include automated or manual reminders sent via text, email, letter, or mail. While not always necessary, it demonstrates that the tenant was aware of the situation and had the opportunity to rectify it. It's advisable to maintain written communication rather than relying solely on phone calls or face-to-face meetings.

Top tip: If you collect rent online with Landlord Studio you will have a full and detailed record of your rental income and can simply generate detailed reports on rent history like a rent roll report when you need them.

3. Evidence to show for lease violations

When evicting a tenant for lease violations such as noise complaints, unauthorized pets, or property damages, it's crucial to provide evidence from various sources:

  1. Security Cameras: If you have surveillance footage showing the tenant committing the violation, it significantly strengthens your case.
  2. Video Evidence: If you didn't capture the violation on surveillance footage, recording a video with your phone depicting any damages or the lease violation can serve as compelling evidence.
  3. Photographic Evidence: Pictures can be highly effective in illustrating the extent of the violation. Even if you have video footage, presenting photographs to the judge, either electronically or in print, can offer clearer visual evidence.
  4. Lease Terms: Clearly outline to the court which term of the lease agreement the tenant violated. While not every term needs to be explicitly stated in the rental agreement, it's advisable to include potential eviction reasons in the agreement for future reference. This practice ensures clarity and transparency in lease agreements, particularly in cases involving similar violations.

Resources on Evictions in California

California Eviction Laws FAQs

When Does the California Tenant Protection Act of 2019 Apply?

The California Tenant Protection Act of 2019, commonly known as the "Act," is a comprehensive statewide rent control and tenant protection law that impacts the majority of rental agreements in California. Generally, the Act mandates that landlords must have a valid "just cause"—a reason recognized by the Act—to evict tenants who have resided in a rental property for 12 months or more. 

This cause can be either "at-fault," resulting from the tenant's actions or inaction, or "no-fault," stemming from reasons independent of the tenant's behavior, such as the landlord's desire to personally occupy the property.

The Act extends its coverage to tenants with month-to-month rental agreements as well as those with longer-term leases. However, certain types of tenancies are exempt from its provisions. For instance, properties that are "separately alienable from title," meaning standalone units capable of being sold individually (e.g., single-family homes) and owned by an individual, are exempt from the Act's regulations.

What happens when a landlord doesn't follow California’s eviction Rrules?

California landlords must adhere to all legal requirements and procedures when initiating eviction proceedings against a tenant. Failure to do so, such as providing insufficient notice of termination, can result in the dismissal of the unlawful detainer lawsuit by the court. Consequently, the tenant may continue to reside in the rental property temporarily, prompting the landlord to restart the termination and eviction process.

Landlords must refrain from employing self-help measures, such as changing locks or physically expelling the tenant or their belongings from the premises. The sole lawful method to remove a tenant is through a successful outcome in an unlawful detainer lawsuit. Even following such a victory, only a law enforcement officer—typically a sheriff—holds the authority to execute the tenant's removal. Engaging in illegal eviction practices carries severe repercussions: Landlords who unlawfully evict tenants may face legal actions initiated by the tenant, potentially leading to criminal charges.

What happens to a tenant's abandoned property after an eviction?

Following the eviction of a tenant, the landlord may discover that the tenant has left personal belongings in the rental unit. In such instances, the landlord is required to make reasonable efforts to inform the tenant about the abandoned property and provide a minimum of 15 days for the tenant to retrieve it (18 days if the notification was sent via mail). 

Additionally, the landlord has the authority to levy charges on the tenant for storing the property during this period. Should the tenant fail to reclaim the abandoned items within the specified notice period, the landlord is entitled to dispose of them accordingly. (Refer to Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1980–1991, 2023)

How much notice must a landlord give before evicting a tenant in California?

In California, the notice period required before an eviction depends on the reason for the eviction. For tenants without a lease, the landlord generally needs to provide a 30-day notice if the tenant has lived in the property for less than a year, or a 60-day notice if the tenant has been there for a year or more. For evictions due to nonpayment of rent or violation of lease terms, shorter notice periods may apply.

Can a landlord evict a tenant without a lease in California?

Yes, a landlord can evict a tenant without a written lease in California. However, the landlord must still follow proper legal procedures, which include giving appropriate notice, filing an eviction lawsuit if the tenant does not leave, and obtaining a court judgment before physically removing the tenant from the property.

What are eviction laws in California?

In California, eviction laws delineate the specific circumstances under which a landlord can initiate the eviction process. These grounds encompass scenarios such as non-payment of rent, lease breaches, property damage, engagement in unlawful activities, and lease expiration.

Before commencing eviction proceedings, landlords in California are obligated to furnish tenants with appropriate notice, the duration of which may vary based on the circumstances prompting the eviction.

Tenants in California are afforded specific rights under eviction laws, including receiving adequate notice, withholding rent under certain conditions, addressing lease violations, and undergoing a fair and expeditious eviction procedure.

The eviction process in California encompasses multiple stages, including serving the tenant with notice, filing a lawsuit if required, attending court hearings, and obtaining a court order for eviction. Adhering to the legal protocols outlined in eviction laws is imperative for ensuring a lawful and seamless process for both parties involved.

For individuals seeking clarification or assistance regarding eviction matters in California, consulting with a lawyer specializing in landlord-tenant law is advisable

What Is the Purpose of California Eviction Laws?

The primary objective of California's eviction laws is to establish a structured framework enabling landlords to reclaim possession of their properties while safeguarding the rights of tenants.

These laws offer comprehensive guidelines for both landlords and tenants, delineating permissible grounds for eviction, including instances such as rent arrears or breaches of lease agreements.

Furthermore, they serve to shield tenants from unwarranted evictions by specifying notice protocols and guaranteeing their entitlement to a fair judicial review.

By upholding these laws, stability within the rental market is upheld, thereby mitigating the risk of homelessness and fostering a more equitable environment for both landlords and tenants.

Who Does California Eviction Laws Apply To?

California's eviction laws extend to all landlords and tenants within the state, regulating their interactions and delineating their respective rights and obligations.

Landlords are mandated to abide by eviction laws when seeking to remove a tenant, ensuring compliance with prescribed legal protocols and grounds for eviction as stipulated by these laws. This serves as a safeguard against unjust or unlawful eviction practices.

Similarly, tenants benefit from the protective measures afforded by California's eviction laws. These statutes grant tenants certain entitlements, including the receipt of adequate notice prior to eviction and the right to inhabit habitable living conditions. The overarching aim is to forestall landlords from engaging in discriminatory or retaliatory behaviors against tenants.

What Are the Key Components of California Eviction Laws?

California's eviction laws encompass four fundamental components: grounds for eviction, notice requirements for landlords, tenant rights, and the procedural steps involved in the eviction process.

  1. Grounds for Eviction: These laws delineate permissible reasons for eviction, such as non-payment of rent, lease violations, property damage, and involvement in illicit activities.
  2. Notice Requirements for Landlords: Landlords in California must adhere to specific notice protocols before commencing eviction proceedings. The type of notice and duration provided depend on the grounds for eviction.
  3. Tenant Rights: California eviction laws safeguard tenants' rights, including the receipt of written notice to vacate, the opportunity to contest the eviction in court, and the entitlement to a safe and habitable living environment.
  4. Steps in the Eviction Process: The eviction process involves sequential stages. It begins with the landlord issuing a notice to vacate. If the tenant fails to comply, the landlord initiates legal action by filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit. Subsequently, a court hearing ensues, and if the landlord prevails, they may obtain a writ of possession, granting authority to remove the tenant from the premises.

Which eviction methods are illegal in California?

Eviction methods deemed illegal in California encompass two primary scenarios:

  1. Habitability Violations: If the rental property fails to meet habitability standards, rendering it uninhabitable, and the tenant withholds rent due to these conditions, evicting the tenant under such circumstances is unlawful.
  2. Retaliatory Eviction: It is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant by evicting them in response to the tenant's complaints about the property. Additionally, it is prohibited to evict tenants solely because they participate in, organize, or support a tenants' union. Such actions constitute retaliatory eviction and are considered unlawful under California law.

Can I force a tenant to move out in California?

No, you cannot. California law mandates landlords to adhere to specific legal procedures, including issuing a written notice in accordance with state regulations, before lawfully terminating a tenancy. Landlords are prohibited from forcibly evicting tenants without following due process.

What is a self-help eviction in California?

In California, a self-help eviction refers to unauthorized actions taken by a landlord to forcibly remove a tenant from the rental property without following legal procedures. Examples of such illegal actions include changing the locks, confiscating the tenant's belongings, removing the front door, or tampering with essential utilities such as heat or electricity. These are just a few instances, as self-help measures can encompass various other actions.

Furthermore, California law may specify the amount of damages a tenant can claim if they have been subjected to an unlawful eviction attempt by the landlord. Additionally, some state statutes may entitle tenants to reimbursement for court expenses and attorney fees in cases where the tenant successfully sues the landlord. In certain circumstances, tenants may also retain the right to remain in the rental unit as provided by state laws.

What are the penalties for a self-help eviction in California?

Under California Civil Code, landlords engaging in self-help evictions may face significant penalties. These include potential liability for the tenant's court costs and attorneys' fees. Moreover, the statute grants tenants the right to remain in the rental unit despite the eviction attempt.

In addition to court costs and attorneys' fees, tenants have the option to pursue legal action against landlords for actual damages incurred due to the eviction attempt, as well as any associated violations. Furthermore, tenants may seek an injunction to prevent further violations during the legal proceedings.