The California Eviction Process

The step-by-step eviction process described below is a general guideline for what most tenants should expect once their landlord initiates the eviction process. However, there are special situations in which some tenants may have more legal protections than others or have different rules. No matter what lead to the dispute with your landlord that got you kicked out of your home, a tenants' right lawyer can help you fight the eviction during every step of the process.

Step 1: Your Landlord Gives You Written Notice

You must receive a written notice from your landlord stating that you can either fix the problem (like pay any back rent owed) or move out of the apartment before your landlord can legally begin the eviction process. If you do not comply with the notice, the landlord can file an unlawful detainer case.

It is essential to check if the notice complies with California law, because if the notice that your landlord gives you does not comply with the law, it may be a defense to your eviction case. If you think your landlord got the notice requirement wrong, talk to a lawyer because it may help you with your case.

Step 2: Your Landlord Files a Complaint with the Court and Serves You Papers

If you do not comply with the notice of eviction, your landlord has to file papers in court to get the unlawful detainer (eviction) case started. To start the eviction process, the landlord will file a Summons and Complaint for unlawful detainer at the court, and once the claim is filed, they will serve you.

Step 3: Decide If You Will File a Response with the Court

After your landlord serves you with the Summons and Complaint, you must decide whether you want to respond to the lawsuit. To defend yourself in court, you must file a response to the lawsuit with the court. After determining that you are going to respond to your landlord, remember, the response must be in the proper legal form and submitted by the deadline (within 30 days from the day you were served with a lawsuit).

Step 4: File Your Answer with the Court and Serve the Answer on Your Landlord

You should fill out an Answer to respond to your landlord's complaint. An answer is the formal statement of your defense to the unlawful detainer lawsuit. You have to file your Answer with the court and serve your landlord with a copy by the deadline (usually five days). If you plan to defend yourself in court, you should consider speaking to a lawyer who helps with unlawful detainer cases because they can make sure you filled everything out correctly before you move ahead with your case.

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  1. Make two copies of the court forms.

  2. Have an adult mail one of the copies to the landlord or their lawyer.

  3. File the original Answer, other copy, and Proof of Service at the court clerk's office.

  4. Pay the filing fee, but you can ask for a fee waiver if you cannot afford a filing fee. However, the court might make you pay back any waived fees if you win your lawsuit and collect money.

  5. The clerk will return your copy of the Answer with a stamp and will keep the original for the court.


Step 5: Attend the Eviction Trial


After you served your Answer on the landlord, they will request a trial date with the court. If the date of the landlord’s request does not work for you, then you can submit a "counter-request" for a different time. About a week after the court receives the request(s) to set a date for trial, you and your landlord will receive a letter stating the exact date, time, and location of when to appear for trial — typically, it will take place within 20 days.


If, at any point before the trial, you and your landlord can work out an agreement and settle the case, then you can avoid the trial altogether.


Step 6: What to Expect After the Judgment


After your eviction case is decided at trial, there will be a court judgment entered confirming the verdict. Either you or your landlord can appeal any part of the judge's order, or file a motion to set aside. However, you cannot appeal for just any reason — you must have a legally valid reason to appeal the order. Talk to a lawyer immediately if you are thinking of appealing or filing a motion to set aside the judge's order since there are strict deadlines for filing.


Additionally, it is important to remember that the eviction process is not stopped because you are appealing or filing a motion to set aside the order.


Step 7: File Your Request for a Stay of Eviction


A stay of execution is the only way for you to stop or delay the eviction process. A stay is helpful if you need more time to move out of the rental unit, but your landlord will not agree to it. Even if you chose not to appeal, you can file a Request for a Stay of Eviction ("Stay") in order to give yourself more time to move.


You should immediately file for a Stay after you get a notice from the sheriff that you must leave the rental property in five days, and if the judge grants it, the Stay will delay the eviction. However, the judge will only grant your request if you have a good reason for requesting extra time; and remember, you will have to pay rent for any additional time that you are using the rental unit.


You cannot fill out a court form to ask for a Stay, so immediately talk to a lawyer for help if you have a received a notice from the sheriff, or you will not be able to delay the eviction. If you have questions about how to file for a Stay with the court, or about any other part of the California eviction process, contact the qualified tenants’ rights lawyers at Tenants Law Firm by calling (310) 432-3200 or by filling out our online contact form.