The Eviction Process in California: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers

An overview of California eviction rules, forms, and procedures.

Before evicting a tenant, California law requires a landlord to legally terminate the tenancy. To do this, the landlord must first give the tenant written notice, as specified by state law. If the tenant does not move out or fix bad behavior—for example, by paying the rent or finding a new home for the dog (when the lease prohibits pets)—then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit (also called an unlawful detainer suit). For serious lease violations, the landlord does not need to give the tenant the option of correcting the problem behavior.

California law gives exact requirements to end a tenancy, with different types of termination notices and procedures required for different types of situations. This article provides an overview of the rules landlords must follow when evicting a tenant or ending a tenancy in California. Communities with rent control ordinances may impose additional rules as to terminating a tenancy.

Notice for Termination With Cause

A landlord can terminate a California tenancy early and evict the tenant for a variety of reasons, including failure to pay rent, violating the lease or rental agreement, or committing an illegal act. Before terminating the tenancy, the landlord must give the tenant written notice. The reason for the termination will determine the type of notice needed.

  • Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent: If the tenant does not pay rent when it is due, the landlord can give the tenant a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. This notice informs the tenant that the tenant has three days to pay rent in full. If the tenant does not pay rent, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with the court at the end of the three days (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1161(2)).
  • Three-Day Notice to Cure: If the tenant violates the lease or rental agreement, the landlord can give the tenant a three-day notice to cure. This notice informs the tenant that the tenant has three days to correct the violation. If the tenant does not correct the violation within three days, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1161(3)).
  • Three-Day Unconditional Quit Notice: This type of notice is given to the tenant if the tenant commits specific, serious violations. The notice informs the tenant that the tenant must move out of the rental unit within three days of receiving the notice. The tenant is not allowed any time to fix the violation, and if the tenant does not move out within three days, the landlord can go to court to file an eviction lawsuit. The landlord can use a three-day unconditional quit notice only in the following situations:
    • the tenant has assigned or sublet the rental unit in violation of the lease or rental agreement
    • the tenant has caused substantial damage to the property
    • the tenant has permitted or created a nuisance at the rental unit, or
    • the tenant has been involved in illegal activity on the premises of the rental unit.

See Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1161(4).

Notice for Termination Without Cause

The rules for terminating a lease without cause vary depending on whether the tenancy is month-to-month or a fixed term.

Month-to-Month Tenancy

If a tenant has a month-to-month rental agreement and has lived in the rental unit for less than one year, then a landlord must give the tenant a written 30-day notice to end the tenancy. If the tenant has lived in the rental unit for over one year and is month-to-month, then the landlord must give the tenant a written 60-day notice to end the tenancy. Both notices must inform the tenant that the tenancy will expire at the end of the notice period and the tenant must move out of the rental unit by that time (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § § 1946 and 1946.1).

For more details, see California Notice Requirements to Terminate a Month-to-Month Tenancy.

Fixed-Term Tenancy

For tenancies that are longer than month-to-month, the landlord cannot end the tenancy without cause until the end of the term. The landlord does not need to give the tenant notice to move out at the end of the term unless the lease specifically requires it. This means that if the tenant has a year-long tenancy that expires at the end of December and the tenant has not requested a lease renewal, the landlord will not need to give the tenant notice to move out by the end of December, unless the terms of the lease specifically require it.

Tenant Eviction Defenses

A tenant may decide to fight the eviction, which would increase the amount of time the eviction lawsuit takes. The tenant could have several potential defenses. A common defense is procedural mistakes the landlord made during the eviction, such as improperly serving a notice or not waiting long enough before filing the eviction lawsuit. Another defense the tenant could use is that the landlord failed to maintain the rental unit, or that the landlord discriminated against the tenant in some way. For more information on tenant defenses, see Tenant Defenses to Evictions in California.

Removal of the Tenant

The only way a landlord can legally evict a tenant in California is by going through the courts and winning an eviction lawsuit, or unlawful detainer suit. Even after winning the eviction lawsuit, the landlord must use a sheriff to actually perform the eviction. California law has made it illegal for the landlord to personally remove the tenant from the rental unit. See Illegal Eviction Procedures in California for more information on this topic.

If the tenant has moved out of the rental unit and left behind personal property or belongings, the landlord must first try to notify the tenant of the abandoned property and give the tenant at least 15 days to reclaim it (18 days if the notice was mailed to the tenant). The landlord can charge the tenant for the cost of storage of the property. If the tenant does not claim the property, the landlord can dispose of it at the end of the notice period (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § § 1980–1991).

Rationale for the Rules

Landlords must carefully follow all the rules and procedures required by California law when evicting a tenant. Otherwise, the eviction may not be valid. Although these rules and procedures can seem burdensome to the landlord, the rules are there for a reason. Evictions often occur very quickly, with the end result that the tenant has lost his or her home. The rules help ensure the eviction is justified and that the tenant has enough time to find a new place to live.

Resources on Evictions in California

The California Landlord's Law Book: Evictions provides step-by-step advice and the necessary forms, for evicting a tenant in California. Tenants who are interested in fighting an eviction should see California Tenants' Rights for the relevant forms and procedures.

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