Freequently Asked Questions
What Can Landlords Do to Avoid Tenant Problems?
There are many things landlords and tenants can do to avoid problems:
- Make sure the lease or rental agreement is clear for both landlord and tenant.
- Conduct a walk-through of the property before moving in and again when moving out.
- Complete a checklist of any defective items and have both the landlord and tenant sign the list.
- Take pictures of the condition of the premises when you move in and when you move out.
- Communicate professionally and openly. If there is a problem, try to talk it out.
- Confirm all verbal agreements in writing.
- Keep copies of all letters between you.
- Keep notes about conversations you have about repairs or other problems and the dates of the conversations.
- The landlord should keep a record of all repairs, including the date repairs were requested and completed.
What Is the Unlawful Detainer Process (AKA Eviction Process)?
The court process of an unlawful detainer (eviction) usually takes about 30 days. The tenant has five days to file a response after being served with the landlord’s lawsuit. Then the court clerk will schedule a trial within 20 days of the landlord’s request. The trial usually takes less than an hour (but it could take longer).
If the landlord wins, the tenant usually has about five days to move out. It depends on how fast the sheriff posts the property with the lock-out order. The lock-out order will allow the sheriff to lock the tenant out if they do not leave the premises with their belongings within five days of the posting.
Unlawful detainers should not be used when:
- A tenant wants the landlord to fix something in the apartment.
- A tenant moved out but still owes the landlord for unpaid rent or damages.
- There are disputes about fraud in the property’s ownership.
- There is a dispute about the security deposit after the tenant moves out.
How Does a Landlord Legally Evict a Tenant?
First, the landlord gives the tenant written notice. Suppose the notice allows the tenant to correct the problem—such as to pay the back rent or to remove a pet. The landlord can only evict if the tenant does not do what the notice asks. If the notice is not correctable—such as a 30 or 60-day notice to move out in a month-to-month tenancy—the landlord can file an unlawful detainer case in court when the notice period ends. An unlawful detainer is a legal name for eviction.
If the landlord has followed all the proper procedures, and the tenant either does not answer the court papers or the tenant answers, but the court decides in favor of the landlord, the court will order the sheriff to evict the tenant. If the court decides for the tenant, the tenant will get to stay.
It is against the law for landlords to evict tenants independently without going to court AND getting a court order directing the tenant to move out.
Even if the tenant is months behind on the rent, without a court order, the 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 doors.
- Change the locks.
When Can a Landlord Evict a Tenant?
In California, a landlord may evict a tenant if the tenant:
- Fails to pay the rent on time.
- Breaks the lease or rental agreement and will not fix the problem (like keeping when pets are not allowed).
- Damages the property bringing down the value (commits “waste”).
- Becomes a serious nuisance by disturbing other tenants and neighbors even after being asked to stop.
- Uses the property to do something illegal.
What Are the California Eviction Notices?
60-Day Notice – On January 1, 2007, for tenants who have resided in the premises for one year or more, landlords who wish to terminate that tenancy are required to give 60-days notice.
Civil Code section 1946.1 requires the 60-day notice for tenancies of a year or more unless ALL of the following are true:
- The dwelling or unit is alienable separate from the title to any other dwelling unit.
- The owner has contracted to sell the dwelling or unit to a bona fide purchaser for value and has established an escrow with a licensed escrow agent.
- The purchaser is a natural person or persons.
- The notice is given no more than 120 days after the escrow has been established.
- Notice was not previously given to the tenant pursuant to CC 1946.1.
- The purchaser, in good faith, intends to reside in the property for at least one full year after the termination of the tenancy.
30-day Notice – A landlord who wants to terminate (end) a month-to-month tenancy can do so by properly serving a written 30-day notice on the tenant. Generally, a 30-day notice doesn’t have to state the landlord’s reason for ending the tenancy.
90-day Notice for Section 8 – The California Supreme Court has ruled that landlords who participate in government-subsidized tenancies (most commonly, Section 8 tenancies) must give tenants 90 days’ notice when terminating tenancies without cause. (Wasatch Property Management v. Degrate, 35 Cal.4th 1111 (2005).)
3-day Notices – A landlord can use a written 3-day notice (eviction notice) if the tenant has done any of the following:
- Failed to pay the rent.
- Violated any provision of the lease or rental agreement.
- Materially damaged the rental property (“committed waste”).
- Substantially interfered with other tenants (“committed a nuisance”).
- Used the rental property for an unlawful purpose, such as selling illegal drugs.
What Responsibilities Do Landlords Have?
Landlords must make sure:
- The outside walls, windows, and doors protect tenants against water or weather.
- The plumbing and gas fittings work properly.*
- There is hot and cold running water, appropriate fixtures, an approved sewage system, and the water supply is not contaminated.*
- There is a working heater.
- There is adequate lighting and electrical wiring that meets safety standards.*
- The premises and common areas must be clean and free from pests.
- There are adequate garbage containers.
- The floors, stairways, and railings are not broken.
*The landlord must meet the standards in effect when installed and current building and house code standards. For more information, read California Civil Code section 1941.
The landlord must also promptly repair problems related to the habitability items listed above. If the tenant gives notice of a problem and the landlord fails to fix it, the tenant may be able to pay for the repair and deduct the cost from the rent. This only applies if the cost is not more than one month’s rent. Read Civil Code section 1942.
The landlord must give reasonable notice to the tenant before gaining entrance to the rental unit unless there is an emergency that requires immediate entry (such as fixing a broken pipe).
Landlords also have other responsibilities, and you can read about them in the materials from the California Department of Consumer Affairs.