Most landlords, if they are in the property rental business long enough, eventually face the irksome task of evicting a tenant. Furthermore, the eviction process is one of the most unpleasant issues landlords must face. It can be time-consuming, expensive, and distracting. Most tenants facing eviction are uncooperative. If they were cooperative, evicting them wouldn’t be necessary. They would move out on their own.  To evict a tenant in California isn’t as easy as other states.

Eviction, by nature, is an adversarial legal process. In the end, a judge decides whether the eviction can go through or not. Though there are many good reasons for courts to review eviction actions, in most cases, the landlord is in the right. After all, no property owner profits from evictions. An eviction is a way of minimizing losses from a nonpaying or destructive tenant.

Property Managment Company

Many landlords make the smart move of allowing a professional property management company to handle evictions. This creates a buffer between the tenant and the property owner, which protects the owner from additional legal liability that may be asserted by the tenant. For example, California law requires several procedures to be followed in order for an eviction to proceed. A property management company follows these as a matter of routine. An inexperienced property owner may inadvertently neglect a point of law, which could give rise to a counterclaim from the tenant.

Landlords also find that being forced to deal directly with the tenant and attend court hearings wastes time and energy, while also distracting the landlord from more profitable endeavors. The eviction process requires a minimum of several months and follows several procedural steps. Here is how to evict a tenant in California:

There must be cause

It is illegal to evict a tenant without just cause. California law defines just cause. Even if you feel you have a valid reason to evict a tenant, you cannot do so unless it is a valid reason as defined by law. In other words, a judge needs you to describe a reason for the eviction that meets one of the following criteria:

  • Failure to pay rent on time
  • Breakage of the lease or rental agreement (like having a pet when the lease stipulates no pets)
  • Damages to the property
  • A serious disturbance of other tenants or neighbors after warnings
  • Illegal activity

In some areas, a landlord can evict a tenant who overstays his or her lease.

These categories are broad and many actions could be interpreted as fitting into just cause. Nevertheless, the court has the say on whether your eviction case merits actual cause based on the facts of the case. Before pursuing an eviction action, obtaining legal advice is always recommended.

Prohibited activities

Regardless of the circumstances, California law makes it illegal for landlords to ever engage in the following actions without a court order:

  • Physically remove the tenant
  • Dispose of tenant’s personal property
  • Lock the tenant out
  • Cut off utilities
  • Remove outside windows or doors
  • Change the locks

Mediation and settlement

Often, landlords and tenants find it is in their mutual interest to settle the matter out of court. For example, the tenant may agree to pay past due rent or to move out by a certain date.

Steps of the eviction process

Step 1 Notice

The landlord must give notice. The notice must specify the reason for the eviction and provide the tenant with an opportunity to respond. The landlord can move forward to step 2 once the legal notice period expires. Often, if the eviction notice reason is missed rent, the tenant will provide payment within the notice period.

Step 2 Complete the forms

To file an eviction suit, you must complete these three forms:

  • Summons-Unlawful Detainer-Eviction
  • Complaint-Unlawful Detainer
  • Civil Case Cover Sheet

The tenant(s) are the defendants. Name all known tenant defendants. You can only evict the tenant(s) who you name. Only you or your lawyer can decide what to say in court documents.

Step 3 File in court

To file, make two copies of the summons and complaint and take them to the courthouse. The clerk’s office will handle the filing, and you must pay a filing fee. The clerk will return two stamped copies of each. One copy is for you, the other is for the defendant.

Step 4 Serve the tenant

You will need to hire a process server. The server can provide personal service, which means that the papers are given directly to the defendant(s). Alternatively, the server can perform substitute service, where the server leaves the papers with another adult where the tenant lives or works.

Step 5 Defendant response

Each defendant has 5 days to respond from the time they received service. Defendants may respond with an answer, by filing in court or choose not to respond.

Step 6 Trial

To proceed with the eviction, you must now request a trial. This is done by completing and filing the Request to Set Case for Trial – Unlawful Detainer Form. At the trial, the plaintiff speaks first, followed by the defendant. The judge may ask questions of either side. If the judge agrees with the landlord, he or she will issue an order of possession.

Step 7

Providing the order of the possession to the county sheriff completes the eviction. Under the law, the tenant has 5 days to vacate the property. After that, the sheriff can remove the tenant and the tenant’s property and lock the tenant out.

In cases where the tenant owed back rent, the court order may also include monetary damages due to the landlord. These often include back rent and attorney’s fees or court costs. Either side may appeal the court’s ruling. If the tenant appeals, the eviction is not delayed, though it could be delayed if the tenant receives a stay of execution.


Evictions are a necessary part of the property rental business. Unfortunately, some tenants simply don’t pay rent. If that situation continues, it can put the landlord out of business. In other cases, tenants engage in property destruction or illegal activities. Landlords must evict bad tenants to protect their property and other tenants. For more advice on how to deal with troublesome tenants, feel free to contact our property management team.

Coast & Valley Properties is a full-service property management company serving the entire Monterey County providing unparalleled service of diverse rental properties, as well as homeowner association management.