The eviction of a tenant in the State of California is a cumbersome process and so a land lord as well as a tenant should tread cautiously before embarking upon into any legal proceedings.
Evicting a Tenant in California
From the moment a land lord or owner of a dwelling unit in the State of California enters into a lease or rental agreement with a tenant pertaining to his dwelling unit or rental premises, their relationship is governed by the California Civil Code involving elaborate rules and procedures. Hence, both land lord and tenant should tread cautiously by knowing their duties and liabilities thoroughly as enshrined in the code lest they may get entangled in the legal web and simply squirming about. It is also necessary to learn the legal meaning or definition of some common and frequently used terms so as to get familiarized with the legal parlance that deals with land lord and tenant relationship.
Meanings of some common legal terms: (Vide Section 1980 of California Civil Code)
- Land Lord means any operator, keeper, lessor or sublessor or any furnished or unfurnished premises for hire or his or her agent or successor in interest.
- Premises or dwelling unit includes any common areas associated therewith.
- Reasonable Belief means the actual knowledge or information about the probable value of the personal property without involving any investigation.
- Tenant includes any paying guest, lessee or sub-lessee of any premises for hire.
- Records means any material, regardless of the physical form on which information is recorded or preserved by any means including in written or spoken words graphically depicted, printed or electromagnetically transmitted.
Evicting a Tenant in California:
Even though the relationship between a landlord and a tenant is governed by the specific terms of the lease or rental agreement, still there is room for violation of the terms of the rental agreement by a tenant. Hence a land lord will always have grounds or reasons to evict a tenant. Since the eviction of a tenant in California involves elaborate legal proceedings of a law suit and even by engaging the jury (if necessary and opted by the land lord or tenant), it is better to have a written rental or lease agreement with specific terms than a oral agreement to govern the relationship between a land lord and tenant or between a lessor and lessee. It is equally good to consult an attorney before preparing a rental or lease agreement.
A lease or rental agreement should necessarily contain the following details :- (Section 1962 of California Civil Code)
- The names and correct addresses, telephone numbers of the land lord and the tenant.
- Details as to term of the lease, rent, security deposit, mode of payment, details required for electronic fund transfer etc.
- Full details of the rental premises like door number, street name, name of the county, the date, the period of the rental agreement and name of the agent, if any, representing the land lord.
- Whether the county or city, where the rental or dwelling unit is situate, is subject to rent control.
- The duties and obligations of the land lord as well as the tenant as enjoined by the California Civil Code.
Reasons for evicting a tenant:-
1. If a tenant commits default in paying the agreed rent and stays behind, it would be a ground for eviction.
2. If the tenant commits breaches in the terms and obligations imposed by the rental agreement and does not fix the problems despite being advised and notified by the land lord. For example, the rental agreement specifically stipulates that the tenant should not maintain any pet animal in the rental premises which may cause nuisance to the neighbors; but the tenant has a dog as his pet animal that creates a great noise and nuisance to the neighbors; or the tenant sublets a part of the rental premises which is a clear violation of the terms of the rental agreement. Despite being warned by the land lord in person and through legal notice, the tenant continues to breach the terms of the agreement, then the land lord has no option but to evict the tenant.
3. If the tenant causes damages to the rental premises and engages in unlawful activities that lowers the value of the property.
4. The tenant is holding over the rental premises despite the lease term having ended already.
5. When the lease term ends and the tenant continues to occupy the rental premises and pay the rent in the usual mode as prescribed in the previous lease agreement, it is presumed that the previous lease agreement has been renewed on the basis of same terms and conditions of the previous lease (Vide section 1945 of the California Civil Code).However, when the land lord cancels the rental agreement for any personal reason but the tenant disagrees with it and refuses to vacate the rental premises.
Process of evicting a tenant in California:
A land lord can initiate eviction proceedings against the tenant on any one of the above mentioned grounds:-
The first step in the eviction process is issuing legal notice to the tenant.
The land lord should issue a legal notice to the tenant and send it by the registered mail to the address of the tenant as provided by section 1162 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Issuing a legal notice being a risky process, it is always advisable for the land lord to consult a lawyer so as to comply with the requisite legal formalities involved in issuing a legal notice and issue the right kind of notice to the tenant.
- In normal circumstances, if the land lord is not willing to renew a pending lease of a tenant who has been renting for more than one year in the rental premises, he may issue a 60 days legal notice to the tenant at least one month before the expiry of the term of lease.
- When it is a monthly tenancy, the land lord can issue a 30 days legal notice at any time during a month.However, in the rent controlled cities, the land lord cannot cancel the monthly tenancy for any reason and so he cannot issue any legal notice.
- When the tenant has defaulted from paying the monthly rental charges and stays behind, the land lord has to issue 3 days legal notice in writing with a direction to pay rent or quit and the legal notice should contain the details of tenant, rental dues, the address to which the rent to be sent, land lord’s signature and the date of notice etc.
- When the tenant breaks the terms of the lease, eg sub lets the rental premises or causes nuisance to the neighbors or damages the rental property, the land lord has to issue a 3 days legal notice to the tenant directing him to set the things right within three days. If the tenant does not comply with the terms of the legal notice, then the land lord can proceed against the tenant for evicting him from the rental premises.
- If the tenant is living in a subsidized house (vide section 8), the land lord has to issue 90 days legal notice to the tenant with valid reasons.
Eviction Process through court:
If a tenant does not comply with the eviction notice issued by the land lord, he can proceed against him and file an unlawful detainer suit in a court which has jurisdiction to deal with the case. However, before filing any unlawful detainer suit against a tenant, the land lord should consult an attorney and if necessary engage him to conduct the suit. The land lord should also mobilize the requisite legal fees and be prepared before filing the detainer suit.
The land lord has to file the unlawful detainer suit along with requisite documents like the copy of the legal notice, lease agreement etc with sufficient copies of documents,requisite court-fees and process fees (for sending summons to the defendant (tenant))etc as required by the court.When the law suit is taken up on file, the defendant is served with summons and given five days time to appear before the court and file his statement.If the tenant fails to appear before the court and file his statement, the court will proceed to pass a default judgment.If the tenant appears before the court and files his statement within the stipulated time, the court will then get on with the trial proceedings.
During the trial, the land lord and the tenant can also avail the services of a jury. Consequent to the trial of the detainer suit, if the judge is convinced that the tenant is at fault, he will deliver a judgment in favor of the land lord to evict the tenant. If the tenant is not at fault, the unlawful detainer suit will be dismissed and the tenant need not vacate the rental premises. An unlawful detainer suit is adjudicated within a maximum period of 20 days.
The cost involved in engaging the jury system, if borne by the land lord, has to be paid by the tenant to the land lord,if eviction is ordered.The security deposit, if any, paid by the tenant to the land lord, has to be returned to him, if eviction is ordered. If the land lord does not return the security deposit and simply prevaricates, the tenant has to proceed against him in a small cause court. Similarly, for recovering the rental dues if any from the tenant, the land lord has to file a separate suit against the tenant.Any order for recovery of rental dues passed against the tenant will also be recorded in his credit report and it will remain part and parcel of his credit report for a period of 7 years.
Writ of possession:-
After the completion of the trial, when the judgment is delivered in favor of the land lord, it is called as writ of possession. On the basis of writ of possession, the land lord seeks the eviction of the tenant and takes possession of the rental premises. However, before evicting the tenant, he is given a reasonable time through eviction notice from court.If the tenant does not comply with the eviction notice within the stipulated time, he is physically removed and the possession of the rental premises is handed over to the land lord.
Thus evicting a tenant in the State of California is a complicated legal process and a land lord in California should think twice before embarking upon it.
1.California Civil Code
2.California Tenants/California Department of Consumer Affairs/http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications
4.California Courts/Self-Help Centre