Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and this article is not intended as a substitute for advice from the appropriate legal, zoning, financial, construction and/or tax professionals. This information is provided for educational purposes only and is made without warranties or representations
Rental properties can be a great way to earn passive income and grow your wealth, but that doesn’t mean owning them doesn’t have its risks.
Finding good tenants is arguably one of the most important tasks any landlord can do. Even if you’ve gone to great lengths to screen your tenants before signing the lease, you can never completely avoid the potential of renting to problem tenants.
In California, you must go through a specific process if you need to evict a tenant. Understanding the rules and regulations surrounding evictions is essential in order to avoid additional legal and financial headaches.
Before a landlord can file an eviction lawsuit in California, they have to let the tenant know that the tenancy is being terminated. California is often cited as one of the least tenant-friendly states, so it’s essential to be well-versed in eviction laws and other landlord-tenant issues.
The Tenant Protection Act of 2019 gave California tenants additional protections if they have lived in a rental for at least a year. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at when this law applies.
In 2019, a statewide tenant protection and rent control law was implemented in California. Known as the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, this is a fairly complicated piece of legislation. The bottom line, however, is that tenants who have lived in a rental for a year or longer can only be evicted if the landlord has “just cause.”
The just cause can result from the actions (or inaction) of the tenants in an at-fault eviction or due to a no-fault eviction so long as the reason for ending the tenancy is acceptable. For example, a landlord can end the tenancy of a renter who has been renting for twelve months or longer if they personally want to move into the rental or make it their home.
This Act doesn’t just apply to renters who have longer-term leases– it also applies to those who have month-to-month agreements. There are some exceptions to the rule and exemptions to be aware of as well. For example, if an individual owns a single-family home that is being rented out, they are exempt from the Tenant Protection Act.
There are a number of justifiable reasons why a landlord might choose to terminate a tenancy early. These include violating the lease, failing to pay rent, or committing an illegal act.
In order to terminate the tenancy properly, the first step is for the landlord to give the tenant a Notice to Quit. The precise type of written notice that is required will be determined by the reason for ending the tenancy.
Landlords can give tenants a three-day notice when they don’t pay their rent on time. This notice gives them three days to pay the rent that they owe or move out of the property.
If the renter chooses to move out before the deadline is up, the landlord has the right to cover unpaid rent using the security deposit. They can also sue them for rent still not repaid after the security deposit has been exhausted.
In the case that a tenant takes neither action outlined by the notice– aka they didn’t pay the rent in full or move out of the unit, the landlord can now begin the process of filing an eviction lawsuit.
Sometimes, a tenant will violate the lease in a way that can be remedied. For example, if you find that your renters are keeping a pet even though you have a no-pets policy in the lease, they can fix the problem by moving the animal out of the unit.
The written notice that is applicable in this type of situation is known as a Three Day Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit. You will also sometimes hear this referred to as a three-day notice to cure.
This notice lets the renter know they have two options: correct the lease violation within three days or move out within three days. It’s worth noting that the three days referred to here exclude any judicial holidays and weekends.
A landlord can’t file an eviction lawsuit against the tenants if they end up moving out before the deadline. However, if there was damage to the property or the tenants still owe rent, the landlord can sue them for the amount owed that exceeds the security deposit. If neither action is taken and the deadline passes, the landlord is in the clear to begin eviction proceedings.
In other circumstances, a tenant will violate the lease in ways that can’t be fixed. Furthermore, tenants will sometimes commit a serious violation of the lease that provides cause for ending the tenancy.
In these situations, a landlord can deliver a written notice that serves as an unconditional three-day notice to quit. The tenant only has one option: they must move out within three days. They don’t get a second chance or an opportunity to fix the problem they have caused.
If they don’t leave after three days, the landlord can start the eviction process. There are only a few circumstances where a landlord is allowed to deliver a three-day unconditional notice to quit, which are:
Three-day unconditional quit notices can also be used by landlords when tenants who are protected by the California Tenant Protection Act ignore a three-day notice to quit or cure when a fixable lease violation is involved.
There are also some instances where a landlord can end a tenancy without cause. This means that the reason for terminating the tenancy isn’t related to any action or inaction on the part of the renter.
How you have to go about ending a tenancy without cause has to do with whether the tenants are on a fixed-term lease or a month-to-month rental agreement.
Landlords must wait until the end of the lease term to end a tenancy without cause when tenants are on a fixed-term lease. At the same time, the landlord isn’t required to notify the tenant that they must move out once the term has run out. That is unless the lease explicitly states that this is a requirement.
For example, if a tenant is on a one-year lease that expires at the end of August, the landlord doesn’t have to give them notice to move out if the tenant didn’t request a lease renewal. Again, this is only if it isn’t specified in the lease that notice is required.
If a tenant has rented your unit for twelve months or longer, landlords have to renew the lease if requested unless they have just cause.
What does a landlord do if you do have a just cause for ending the tenancy of a longer-term tenant at the end of their lease, even when they want to renew? Here are the acceptable just causes and associated notices landlords will need to give their tenants:
If the reason the landlord is ending the tenancy for a renter protected by the 2019 Act is a curable lease violation, the eviction process actually can’t begin yet after a tenant doesn’t fix the problem or move out. Instead, the landlord is required to send another notice to quit– this time, a three-day unconditional notice to quit. If they don’t leave after this new deadline, they can file an eviction suit.
If a landlord has a “no-fault” reason for ending the tenancy of someone subject to this Act, they have to compensate the renter according to the Tenant Protection Act.
Now that we have a clearer sense of when you can start the eviction process depending on the cause and specific circumstances, let’s dive into how the process actually works.
As discussed earlier in the article, there are different types of termination notices depending on the circumstance. It’s important to make sure that you are delivering the proper kind of notice to quit to ensure you are going through the process by the books.
How you give your tenant this type of notice is also important. Here are your options for making sure the renter receives your notice:
The landlord can choose to deliver this notice themselves, or another person over the age of 18 can be the one who delivers the notice.
A landlord only needs to file an unlawful detainer suit if the tenant doesn’t cure the lease violation, pay the rent they owe, or move out by the end of the deadline. If the tenant doesn’t abide by the notice they have received in one way or another, the landlord can file an unlawful detainer suit.
The landlord will need to file four forms– Summons—Unlawful Detainer-Eviction, Complaint—Unlawful Detainer, Supplemental Allegations—Unlawful Detainer, Civil Case Cover Sheet, and a Plaintiff’s Mandatory Cover Sheet– at the superior court in the county where the property in question is located. Anyone who is beginning the eviction process will also want to talk to the court clerk and ensure there aren’t any local forms that also have to be filed.
The next step is to have the lawsuit paperwork served on the tenant. The landlord can’t do this themselves– someone who isn’t related to the case and over the age of 18 must serve the tenant.
The next step is to file both an original and a copy of the Proof of Service form– signed– with the court. Depending on how the paperwork was served, the tenant has either five days to respond or fifteen days to respond.
If the tenant files an answer to the suit from the landlord, the next step is for the landlord to request that the court set a trial date. Both parties will have the chance to explain their side of the story during the trial.
The landlord can ask for a default judgment from the court if the tenant doesn’t respond to the complaint. The tenant will need to be served with a copy of the judgment if a landlord is granted a default judgment.
If the judge finds that the landlord has evicted the tenant for good reason, he or she will sign a Judgment of Possession.
It’s also possible that the tenant will be ordered to pay for the rent they owe and repay the landlord for other costs incurred during the process of the eviction suit.
A Writ of Execution will be stamped once the Judgment of Possession is signed. This is necessary for the landlord to proceed with the eviction with the help of the sheriff’s office. A Notice to Vacate will be served to the tenant by the sheriff once they are hired by the landlord to do so. This gives the tenants five days to move out, or else the sheriff will have the right to physically remove them and their belongings from the property.
Is it time to add a new rental to your portfolio or swap a property as you continue to grow your wealth? If so, you’re in the right place. As the top commercial real estate broker in California, I’m in a unique position to help you achieve your real estate investing goals. If you’re ready to get started, drop me a line and say hello.
Do you have any questions about what you’ve read in this or any other article? As always, I’m always happy to help answer any questions you might have or assist you in any way I can. Just reach out!
Erik Egelko is a veteran of the commercial real estate business with a specialized focus on Investment Property Sales. In 2021 and 2022, Erik was the #1 ranked Broker in California for one of the largest CRE Firms as well as ranked in the Top 1% of brokers nationwide. He has extensive experience in a variety of asset types including: Retail Shopping Centers, Medical Office Buildings, Industrial Properties, and Multifamily Apartment Complexes. Over the course of his career, Erik has closed over $100,000,000 of commercial property sales throughout Southern California.