California evictions: tips, legal resources for tenants

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House keys sitting on an eviction notice received in the mail.

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Receiving an eviction notice can seem scary, but it doesn’t mean pack up and leave the rental property.

The Sacramento Bee consulted Attorney Lila Gitesatani with the National Housing Law Project in San Francisco and the Judicial Branch of California for step-by-step instructions on what to do if given an eviction notice in California.

“Your first step is to sit down,” Gitesatani said, “and actually read it and not ignore it and to understand what it’s asking you.”

How the eviction process works in California

If the landlord doesn’t deliver the notice the correct way or include the information required for the type of eviction, according to the Judaical Branch of California’s website, the court could invalidate the notice.

Before we dive into the weeds of what to do when receiving an eviction notice at your California rental property, here’s what the process looks like, simplified:

After you receive an eviction notice in California, here are the next steps:

  1. Read the eviction notice and understand what it’s asking.
  2. Talk to your landlord to see if there is room for negotiation.
  3. If there’s no room for negotiation, move out of the property by the eviction notice’s deadline.
  4. If you don’t move out by the eviction notice’s deadline, the landlord can take you to court.
  5. If you don’t file a response to the court within five days, you will be served a notice to vacate the property and you’ll have five days to move out.
  6. If you file a response in time, the judge will make a decision.

Throughout the eviction process, be sure to document and put everything in writing including negations with your landlord, Gitesatani said. For example, if a landlord gives a tenant a three-day eviction notice to pay rent or move out, a tenant could possibly negotiate a time after the notice’s deadline to pay their landlord.

Rental and free legal aid programs in California

Rental assistance programs were plentiful in the earlier years of COVID-19, but they have since dried out, Gitesatani said. Here is a list of rental assistance programs still available in California, plus free legal assistance programs to consider when going through the eviction process:

I received an eviction notice in California

Before a landlord can start an eviction case, they must give their tenant a written eviction notice that details 1) why they want to terminate their lease and 2) how much time they have to comply or move out.

All written eviction notices come with either a three-day, 30-day, 60-day or 90-day deadline.

Some eviction notices ask the tenant to simply move out. When figuring out the day the deadline lands on, start counting each day from the day after the notice is received without including weekends or court holidays.

The other type of eviction notice asks the tenant to come current on rent or fix a problem in violation of the lease to stop the eviction process from moving forward. If the deadline lands on a weekend or court holiday, the deadline is then pushed to the next business day.

EVICTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE

Here are a few situations, according to the Judaical Branch of California’s website, when a landlord can evict a tenant without a notice:

  • If a tenant’s fixed-term lease is up and the landlord doesn’t extend it
  • If a tenant gives a notice to end their lease and then doesn’t leave the property
  • If the tenant works for the landlord and lives on the rental property as parts of the job

After a tenant receives an eviction notice, they have a couple of options: talk with the landlord, do what the notice asks, move out or do nothing. If there’s time to reach an agreement with the landlord, make sure to document and communicate everything in writing.

If a tenant is able to do what the notice asks, they should notify their landlord and communicate in writing when they’re in compliance with the lease again.

In other cases, the best thing for a tenant to do is to move out to avoid eviction judgment on their credit record.

“A lot of these steps are trying to avoid the landlord from filing the eviction,” Gitesatani said. “Because that can really impact a tenant’s record.”

I received a summons in California

The eviction process and its timeline may be different depending on where you are in California, Gitesatani said.

If the deadline of the eviction notice has expired and the tenant hasn’t done what the notice says and they’re still in the unit, the landlord can move forward with the eviction process. Then, a judge can order the tenant to move out and possibly pay money to the landlord.

“The landlord should never just be throwing somebody out of the unit, changing the locks, forcing them out of the unit,” Gitesatani said. “They have to go through the eviction process.”

Once the landlord files an eviction with the court, also known as an unlawful detainer, it’s now considered a legal case.

The tenant will receive a summons or form SUM-130, plus a slip of paper titled “Complaint” and another titled “Plaintiff’s Mandatory Cover Sheet and Supplemental Allegations” or form UD-101.

If the tenant doesn’t respond to the eviction case in five days, the landlord can request a trial date. If the deadline passes and the tenant does nothing, they’ll receive a notice to vacate by a sheriff and have five days to move out of the property.

If a tenant misses the deadline, they lose the lawsuit by default, Gitesatani said.

The eviction timeline is different depending on what type of notice a tenant receives but it “might take about a month“ from the time the unlawful detainer is filed to when a tenant could possibly find themselves in front of judge.

Remember: If a tenant is involved in an eviction court case and has met all their deadlines, they don’t have to move out of the rental property until a judge makes a decision.

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Brianna Taylor covers affordability on The Sacramento Bee’s service journalism desk as well as general news. Before joining The Bee in 2021, she reported in Missouri and Maryland. She grew up on the East Coast and is a graduate of Morgan State University.

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