How to Evict a Tenant in California


How to Evict a Tenant in California (After COVID-19 Protections End) Need to evict your tenant in California but don’t know where to start? Here is some helpful information on how to evict a tenant in California. This step-by-step guide…

How to Evict a Tenant in California

How to Evict a Tenant in California

How to Evict a Tenant in California

(After COVID-19 Protections End)

Need to evict your tenant in California but don’t know where to start? Here is some helpful information on how to evict a tenant in California.

This step-by-step guide will help you through the process. The California eviction process takes time, patience, legal knowledge, a reasonable budget, and several forms.  However, you do NOT need an eviction attorney or eviction service if you want to handle the process yourself.

California’s tenant law is quite clear.  It is illegal to evict tenants on their own without going to court and getting a court order to direct the tenant to move out.

It does not matter how much a tenant is behind on rent or violates the terms of the lease; without a court order, a landlord cannot:

  • Physically remove the tenant
  • Get rid of the tenant’s personal property
  • Lock the tenant out
  • Cut off the utilities like water or electricity
  • Remove outside windows or door
  • Change the locks

If a landlord does any of the above, then the tenant can sue the landlord – and win!

The eviction process is not a guaranteed win for the landlord. Your job is to give the court all the evidence and the respect of following the process correctly, so granting you a “Writ of Execution” is a no-brainer.

What about the COVID-19 Renters’ Protections?

COVID-19 hit California hard. Residents had to stop and seek the protection of their homes. Since people were restricted to their homes, many people could not work or make a living. A lack of income limited tenants’ ability to pay their rents. When tenants can’t pay rent, owners find it difficult to make their mortgage payments.

The California legislature passed the “Tenant, Homeowner, and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act of 2020″ to avoid the potential market crash.

In short, landlords cannot evict tenants for failure to pay rent if the tenant gave the landlord a declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress within 15-days after being served with a notice to quit by the landlord. These protections were extended to the end of September 2021 with additional repayment minimums for landlords.

By June 30, 2021, tenants are required to pay 25% of the total amount of rent due between September 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021. Several emergency rental assistance programs were to help renters who COVID-19 has impacted were enacted at that time.

  • Any eviction process started before June 30, 2021, must follow the COVID-19 eviction rules.
  • If the eviction process started after September 30, 2021, the COVID-19 requirements do not apply.

The California Eviction Process

The process of evicting a tenant in California is not straightforward. The law does not land on either the landlord or the tenant’s side. However, if you have tried everything to fix the situation and nothing has worked, it is time to begin the process, which is broken down into eight (8) steps below. Click here for Stanislaus County’s Eviction Packet for Landlords.

  1. Preparing to Evict
  2. Give Notice
  3. Fill Out Forms
  4. File In Court
  5. Serve Tenant
  6. Tenant Response
  7. Trial
  8. After Judgment

Two hands holding a sign asking how to start the eviction process in California

Step 1:  Preparing to Evict in California

Before you fil#Step 1: Preparing to Evict in California out the eviction paperwork, you need to do your homework and set your expectations.

You need to figure out:

  • Reasons for the eviction
  • Evidence for the court
  • Your timeline to evict
  • Your budget
  • Post-Eviction cleanup and repair strategies

Typical Reasons for Evictions

There are several causes of eviction, based on breaking the lease in some fashion. These include:

  • Failure to pay rent (did not meet COVID-19 minimums)
  • Failure to pay on time
  • Violates the terms of the lease and won’t fix the problem like having a cat when pets are not allowed.
  • Property damage that brings down the value
  • Serious nuisances that disturb other tenants and neighbors after been asked to stop
  • Illegal activities

Note:  The court will rule against you for attempting to evict a tenant based on discrimination or revenge for filing notices against you for complaints where you are at fault. Examples include not fixing the property’s heating or water systems.

Evidence for the Court

You will need to provide evidence to support your claim that the tenant failed to live up to the terms of your agreement.

Evidence can be anything from lack of payment, proof of prohibited animals, pictures of property damage, affidavits about the nuisance to police reports of illegal activities. You will need at least two sets – one for the courts and one for your records.

The bottom line is you need to be prepared to prove your allegation.

Setting Your Expectations – Timeline, Budget & Post-Eviction Strategies

The key to completing any task is to set your expectations on how long a process will take, the materials you will need, and how much it will cost.

The same is true for the eviction process in California.

  • Timeline: Expect the process to take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks – if you win
  • Costs:
    • Fees of the process (copies, court fees, servicing fees, return postage, Sheriff’s fees, etc.)
    • Lost Income due to loss of rental income, repairing the unit, and getting a new tenant. Please see the next blog in this series for a deeper look into the actual costs of an eviction.
    • The average cost for the greater Stockton/Modesto, Gold Country, and foothill areas average $6,500 or more. The cost is even higher on the coast.
  • Post-Eviction Strategies – What do you want to do once this process is complete?
    • Determine when to call Viking Junk Removal to get a quote on the mess left behind
    • Determine who to call for painting, carpet replacement, and repairs
    • Time for upgrades or to sell
    • Determine if the investment property is still relevant to your overall income plan

Eviction Notice taped to black door with brass handle

Step 2:  Give Notice

Once you have gathered your evidence and made a game plan, you need to give Notice to start the process. This starts the clock. However, if you do not give the appropriate Notice or do not have it delivered correctly, you will add time to the process and risk losing in court.

Disclaimer:  Attempt to work out the issues with your tenants before resorting to eviction to save time, money, and potential property damage.

Notice Types

When a tenant breaks the lease agreement terms, you can serve them with a notice to quit. This action is the first step in any eviction process.

The “Notice to Quit” provides information on the violation in question. It then sets out what violations have been committed under the rental agreement. It gives the tenant time to correct the matter or be legally evicted.

There are multiple types of Notice to Quit. Each type answers a specific condition of either the landlord or the tenant. Be sure to be list all adults that you wish to evict, even if the individual is on a sublease.

  • 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit (pay your rent or get out)
  • 3 Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit (stop doing that or get out)
  • 3 Day Notice to Quit (get out)
  • 30-Day or 60-Day Notice to Quit (you have 30/60 days to get out)
  • 90-Day Notice to Quit (property is being or has been sold or in foreclosure, and you need to move)

You can give two notices at the same time.

  • Example: “3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit” and a “30-Day Notice to Quit”. The tenant needs to pay the rent, and if they do, they need to be out by the end of the month.
  • Example:  “3 Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit” and “60-Day Notice to Quit”. The tenant needs to stop the action and prepare to move out within 60 days.

Giving Notice

There are three ways to give Notice. Each sets the clock a little differently. Generally, the clock starts the day after you mail the Notice or deliver it directly to the tenant.

  1. Personal Delivery – You (or someone else) gives the Notice directly to the tenant in person.
  2. Substituted Service – Leave the Notice with a household member 18 years of age or older AND mail a second copy to the tenant at the property. Make sure to send with delivery tracking as proof. The Notice is considered served on the day of mailing the second copy. Start counting the day after mailing.
  3. Posting and Mailing – The “Nail and Mail” method carries the most risk. If no one is at home or answers the door, you tape or nail the Notice to the front door AND send a copy by mail with delivery tracking as proof. You don’t want the tenant to testify that you never sent the Notice. The Notice is considered “served” the day it was mail. Start counting the day after mailing.


How time is measured is critical. If you file too early, your case will be dismissed, and you will have to start over. Here are some common pitfalls to watch for:

  • Do not count Saturdays, Sundays, or court holidays.
  • Filing too soon. You must wait for this notice period to finish before you file for eviction in court.
  • Not giving Notice with delivery tracking

Step 3:  Filling Out the Correct Forms

While waiting for the tenant to act, stay focused on the process. Prepare the forms ahead of time – just in case you have to use them.

Preparation saves you a ton of time, peace of mind and keeps the momentum rolling. Use a calendar to keep track of your legal timelines to know the earliest time you can submit your paperwork.

Filling Out Forms on a desk

Here are the forms you need for the remainder of the process – broken into steps. Always call your county clerk’s office for county-specific forms.

To Initiate Legal Action

Proof of Service


Judgment Forms

Please consider having your attorney review the forms for completeness. Incorrectly filled forms cause unnecessary delay and could trigger a restart of the process.

Step 4: File in Court

Call the County Clerk’s office for filing fees and any other form that they might require. Ask if their Family Law Center can review your documents prior to filing.

  1. Make two (2) copies of the Summons. Bring them with the originals to the courthouse in the county where the property is located.
  2. Turn in your forms — original and copies — to the clerk. You will have to pay the court filing fee.
  3. The clerk will stamp your forms “Filed” and give back two (2) file-stamped copies of all the forms.
    • One copy of each is for you.
    • The other is for the tenant.
    • If there is more than one tenant, make extra copies for the other tenants (you can make copies of the file-stamped copy for this purpose).
    • The court keeps the original.
  4. The county clerk may have a list of local companies that serve defendants in legal actions. If they cannot do so, they may be able to give you the Google search terms you need to find them.

What if the tenant moves out after filing or I don’t want to continue?

Once you file your complaint, you may decide not to move forward. Maybe the tenant might have moved out, or you reached a good agreement with them. The reasons are endless.

However, you need to inform the court that you do not want to move forward. In this case, you can dismiss your case. Use the “Request for Dismissal form” and expect to pay a filing fee.

This effectively stops the legal action. If you decide to pick it back up, you will have to start over.

Step 5:  Serve Tenant

Every tenant (now the defendant) named in the lawsuit must be served with the Summons and Complaint forms.

Envelope labeled Summons

Now is the time to bring in an experienced 3rd Party to serve the defendant with the Summons and the Complaint. This person or company must not have any involvement in the case. When you

You cannot serve the Summons and Complain yourself regardless if you served the initial Notice or not.

Options When Serving the Tenant (Defendant)

Serving a Defendant can be done in three ways:

  1. Personal Service – The Summons and Complaint documents are delivered to the defendants (tenants). If the tenant does not take the papers, the server can put them on the ground near them and state, “You have been served.”
  2. Substituted Service – The Summons and Compliant forms are delivered to a person of the household aged 18 or older. Then the server must mail a copy to the tenant where the papers were left. The service is considered complete on the 10th day after mailing.
  3. Posting & Mailing
    1. The court must give prior permission to post and mail the Summons and Complaint.
    2. To get prior permission, the server must first try to serve the tenant in person and by substituted service and write a declaration for the court explaining that the server was unsuccessful.
    3. If granted permission, the server has to post a copy of the Summons and Complaint on the property where the tenant will see it AND send another copy by certified mail to the tenant at the tenant’s last known address.
    4. Service is considered complete on the 10th day after the certified mailing of the papers to the tenant.

How you serve determines how long the tenant has to respond.

Finish Filling Out and File the Proof of Service

You can hire a professional serving company or a separate person who has no connection to the case to do the serving. You cannot serve the tenant with these legal documents.

The individual or the professional serving company is responsible for completing and signing a Proof of Service of Summons. The service will send you the proof as part of their contract with you.

Once they give it to you, make a copy for yourself. Make sure the server filled out the Proof of Service correctly. A mistake on this form can delay the case, or you may have to start all over.

Make a copy of the completed and signed Proof of Service. Then take the original and a copy to the court clerk for filing. The clerk will keep the original and will return the copy to you stamped “Filed.”

Keep the copy for your records.

Step 6:  Tenant Response

You have done all of the action so far. Now it is the tenant’s turn to act. Not acting is still an action.

Once the tenant is properly served with the Summons and the Complaint, the tenant has time to respond. The tenant can choose:

  1. Not respond at all
  2. Respond with an answer
  3. Respond by filing in court some other legally valid paper.

Do not waste this time. Double-check your evidence and organize it so your case will easy to present to the court. The more organized you are, the easier the trial will be – if it comes to that.

How Long Does the Tenant Have to Respond?

How the tenant was served determines who long they have to respond.

  • If served in person, the tenant has five (5) days, not including Saturdays, Sundays, or court holidays
  • If served via the Substituted or Posted and Mailed serving options, the tenant has 15 days, not including weekends and holidays. The 15 days is a combination of the first ten (10) days from the date of the postmark, then add the five (5) days for the response time (10 days for mailing + 5 days response time).

You save two weeks off of the eviction process time when you serve in person. However, this is not always possible. It is wise to hope for the five (5)  business days but plan for 15 business days as the worst-case scenario.

Tenant Chooses to Respond or Not Respond

The ball is totally in the tenant’s court. Whether they respond or not respond determines your next step.

  • If the tenant responds:
    • He or she will need to send you a copy of the response to the address you put on the Complaint. If the tenant fails to send you a copy, you can go to the courthouse to get one. If this happens, note this for your presentation to the court at trial.
    • The tenant can challenge the complaint and file a motion to either quash the proceedings or demurrer it.
      • Quashing is when the tenant says they did not serve the Summons and Complaint properly, and they file to void the proceedings. If the court rules in their favor, you will have to restart the process
      • A demurrer is the tenant’s challenge against the Complaint’s completeness of facts or elements the law requires to justify the eviction.
    • If the tenant responds with a Quash or Demurrer, have an attorney review your documentation and evidence to advise on proceeding without unnecessary delays.
  • If the tenant does not respond – don’t count your chickens before they hatch!
    • Make sure you have waited the correct amount of court days. Jumping the gun will force you to restart the whole proceedings.
    • Ask the court to make an order in your favor. A “Default Judgment” means the tenant will not be able to fight the case in court.

Submitting for a Default Judgment

To ask for a default judgment, you will need to complete (if you have not done so already) and submit the following forms to the court

  1. Request for Entry of Default (form CIV-100)
  2. Judgment – Unlawful Detainer (from UD-100)
  3. Writ of Execution aka Writ of Possession (form EJ-130)

Alert! If you do not ask for a “default judgment” as soon as the tenant’s time to answer is up, the tenant will have more time to answer. The tenant will be able to file a response as long as you do not file the Request for Entry of Default.

Step 7:  Trial

You can ask for a trial date once the tenant files an answer.

To apply for the court date, submit a ‘Request to Set Case For Trial – Unlawful Detainer’ (form UD-150). Use this form to tell the court the following:

  • The kind of trial you want (jury or judge)
  • How long do you think the trial will last
  • The issues the judge needs to address

Expect a response from the county clerk after a week. The response will contain the exact date, time, and location of the trial. The trial will take place within 20 days.

If the tenant disagrees with the “Request to Set Case for Trial” information, he or she can also file and serve you with a Counter-Request.

During the Trial

The trial will be at the courthouse, and a judge or a commissioner will hear the case.

Once your case is called, the court generally has the plaintiff (you) speak first. You will have to explain why the tenant should be evicted. The tenant will then have a chance to explain his or her side. The judge may ask both sides questions at any time and review the evidence presented.

The Decision at Trial

The court clerk will give or mail you a copy of a court order that says what the judge’s decision is. The judge will apply the law to the fact to come to a verdict.

Judge writing on desk with scales of justice in front of him

If the landlord (you) wins, you will receive a Judgement of Possession, and the judge may order the tenant to pay back rent, damages, and costs. Then you have to fill out the Writ of Execution for the clerk. Once the clerk finishes their section, take the Writ of Execution to the Sheriff’s department.

The Sheriff will serve the tenant with the Notice to vacate the property.

Step 8: After Judgment

Unless the tenant files for a stay, the tenant will have five (5) days to move.  If they do not, the sheriffs will remove the tenant and lock him or her out.

Eviction is Completed – Now What?

You won the eviction. Now the real work begins.

As soon as the former tenants are out, immediately go to assess the property. Does your initial game plan still work, or do you need help?

There will always be clean-up and repairs after a tenant moves out. But you don’t have to go it alone.

Call Viking Junk Removal to give you a clean-out quote, so you can focus on repairing any damages, upgrading, and preparing the property for its new tenants.

Call us at (209) 872-0323 for a no-obligation quote today!


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