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How to Evict a Problem Tenant in California


How to evict a problem tenant in California requires many careful steps.

It’s not easy to evict a problem tenant in California. Plus, you must never forcibly remove a tenant from your rental property or cut off the utilities. You must go through the California court system.  

Beware: Doing unlawful methods to force out a tenant violates California law resulting in penalties up to $2,000 per occurrence. Also, you can’t file an eviction lawsuit to retaliate against a tenant who rightfully made a complaint about the rental property’s conditions.

If you follow these recommended steps you will succeed.


You Need a Valid Reason to Evict Your Problem Tenant in California


California laws require every landlord to use “just cause” to evict a tenant. Valid “just cause” reasons include:

  • Failing to pay rent;
  • Remaining longer than the lease expiration date;
  • Violating terms of the rental contract;
  • Becoming a nuisance to other tenants and/or neighbors and refusing to stop;
  • Causing substantial property damage;
  • Conducting illegal activities in the unit (like drug dealing); or
  • Using the rental to conduct impermissible acts like engaging in a business in a residential zone.

Like a plaintiff in a lawsuit, landlords must prove any of these types of conduct occurred before a landlord begins an eviction.

Three types of Notice for Termination With Cause exists in California. The types depend on the conduct of the tenant. Let’s quickly explore them.


Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Leave


First, the landlord must serve the tenant with a written 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit document. This notice deals specifically with failure to pay the rent when due.

As its title suggests, the landlord demands that the tenant pay the rent within three days or quit.


Three Day Notice to Cure


This notice comes up when actions by the tenant need correcting. Like causing substantial property damage, or conducting a business in the rental property in violation of zoning laws.

It also applies to when the tenant violates other rental contract terms besides the rent.

Either the tenant cures the problem within three days or leaves.


Three Day Unconditional Quit Notice


Tenants who commit serious violations receive this notice.

For instance, a tenant committing illegal acts in the rental property. Selling drugs, running a prostitution enterprise, or storing stolen goods, and other criminal acts.

Also, this notice used for non-criminal violations. Like the tenant assigned or sublet the rental property to a third party in violation of the rental contract. Or, the tenant created or permitted a nuisance in the rental.

Unlike the above “Pay Rent” or “Cure” the problems notices, the tenant must move out.   


Service of Process on the Problem Tenant in California


The three above-mentioned notices require “Service of Process” on the tenant. See California. Code of Civil Procedure § 1161(2).

Three ways exist to properly serve the tenant with one of these notices:

  • Someone physically hands the notice to the tenant;
  • Leaves a copy of the notice with an adult at the rental unit or at the tenant’s workplace, and then send a U.S. mail copy to the tenant; or
  • Posts a copy of the notice on the tenant’s front door and then mails a copy to the tenant.


Wait 3 Days or if the Tenant Remedies the Problems


The first two notices to either Pay Rent or Cure require waiting three days after service on the tenant to see if the tenant moved out or fixed the problem.

If either occurs, the eviction process ends.

But, the Unconditional Quit Notice requires the tenant to leave within three days or face eviction. 


Filing the Unlawful Detainer Action in California


After three days, if the tenant doesn’t do anything the landlord must file an Unlawful Detainer lawsuit with the local court.    

Basically, a formal complaint filed with a court requesting a court order for the Sheriff to remove the tenant.


Serving the Problem Tenant


Follow the same steps above for the Process of Service.


Wait 5 Days for Tenant’s Response


The tenant must file a written response within 5 days after served with the Unlawful Detainer suit.

If the tenant fails to respond or object to the eviction the landlord then asks the court for a Default Judgment

If the tenant fails to challenge the request for a Default Judgment, the judge gives the landlord a Writ of Possession. Take the writ to the Sheriff’s office to physically remove the tenant.


If Your Tenant Objects


When a tenant responds to an Unlawful Detainer suit or otherwise objects to the Default Judgment, a court hearing occurs within 21 days. Treat this like a civil court trial where evidence (documents) and testimony occurs before a judge.

If the landlord wins, the tenant must move out within 5 days.

If the tenant wins, he or she remains living in the rental property. The landlord might end up paying the tenant’s court fees and costs.


Storing Your Tenant’s Belongings


Tenants leaving behind personal property (clothes, furniture, etc.) after leaving the unit makes the landlord store them. It doesn’t matter if the sheriff removed the tenant or the tenant voluntarily moved out.

If any personal belongings remain the landlord must store them for 2 weeks. 

After the 2 weeks, if the tenant never requests their return the landlord can keep them, sell them, or toss them.


The Time it Takes to Evict a Tenant in California


It depends upon how fast the landlord serves the tenant with the legal notices.

Some clever tenants know how to avoid legal service. These delaying tactics caused California laws to allow posting the notice on the door of the rental unit followed up with mailing a copy to the tenant’s address on file.

After unsuccessful attempts to serve the tenant, the landlord asks the court to proceed without the actual service.

Assuming everything goes smoothly. The eviction process in California takes from 30 to 45 days.




How to evict a problem tenant in California becomes a multi-step, time-consuming process. If the tenant refuses to leave after served with a Notice, the only option requires filing a lawsuit with the California courts.

You, as the landlord, become the “plaintiff” and your tenant becomes the “defendant”.

You must first provide proof of the just cause for evicting the tenant to the judge.

Then, you must present the judge with evidence that all legal notices were correctly worded and properly served on the defendant.

Also, that all-time limits passed before the next step occurred. like the 3 day notice passed with no action from the tenant.

After winning the eviction lawsuit, the Writ of Possession needs to get into the hands of the Sheriff’s office.

After the tenant leaves, any personal property left behind needs storage for two weeks.


Need Help Evicting a Tenant in California?


If all the above steps, the eviction process, and time consumption become too much for you to handle, an option exists.

Hire We Lease San Diego to handle all your property management needs. This includes evicting problem tenants.

Also, We Lease San Diego handles all the other property management duties like:

  • Cleaning and fixing up your rental property after your tenant leaves;
  • Storing any personal properties left behind by your tenant;
  • Advertising for a new tenant;
  • Showing your rental properties to prospective tenants;
  • Screening tenant applicants;
  • Signing up new tenants to written lease agreements;
  • Collecting rent deposits and monthly rents;
  • Handling tenant complaints;
  • Maintaining and fixing rental properties; and 
  • Meeting vacating tenants before moving out to coordinate final inspection and returning deposits not needed to fix tenant caused damages.

Contact Us to learn more about our professional property management services.


Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger



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