The basic facts behind an eviction lawsuit are simple. A landlord and a tenant enter into an agreement. The landlord promises to provide a habitable property. In exchange, the tenant agrees to pay timely rent. But what happens if a tenant stops paying rent and refuses to leave?
The answer is that the landlord must file a lawsuit to evict the tenant, called an “Unlawful Detainer”.
Can landlords lock out tenants who are not paying rent?
Absolutely not. California has very clear laws that prohibit landlords from locking out their tenants if they fail to pay rent. Otherprohibited “self-help” remedies include shutting off utilities or other actions short of an actual lockout that essentially require the tenants to move.
The law is clear: if a landlord wants to evict a tenant, they must use the unlawful detainer process. The landlord needs to go to court and get a judgment ordering the tenants to leave.
How long does an unlawful detainer process take?
An unlawful detainer typically takes between 20 and 30 days to complete. The total amount of time depends on the case’s complexity and how quickly the court schedules a trial. To a landlord, this can be an excruciatingly long time because the tenant will have typically already been in default of rent a week or more before the legal process is initiated.
As an illustration, take the case of Linda the landlord and her tenant, Tim. Tim fails to pay Linda $2,000.00 in rent on the first of May (the due date). Linda repeatedly asks Tim when he will pay, but two weeks go by and Tim still doesn’t pay rent.
Linda must initiate an eviction by serving a legally compliant “3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit”. Tim the tenant will have three days to pay rent, or move out of the property. If Tim fails to pay $2,000 or move out, Linda may file a lawsuit. Tim will have five days after being served with the lawsuit to respond or “answer.” The court is then required to set a trial in 20 days or less. A part-day trial will then take place. Assuming Linda wins the trial, the Court Clerk will issue a Writ of Possession. The Writ of Possession is then served on Tim who will have another five days to move out. At the end of the fifth day, the Sheriff will forcibly remove Tim from the property. Only then does Linda get the property back.
That’s 33-days total. Delays in service of process, court holidays, or other complications will extend the timeline even further.
How much does an eviction cost?
Evictions can cost several hundred to thousands of dollars. It completely depends on the complexity of the underlying facts of the case.
There are two components to the cost of an eviction. The first component of costs are fixed fees charged by the court system, process servers, and the Sheriff’s Office. Those fees will typically cost around $550, including $245 to file the underlying lawsuit.
The next component of costs is attorney-fees. The total attorney fees in any eviction are entirely dependent on the complexity of the case and how much work needs to be done.
Do I need an attorney to file an Unlawful Detainer?
Yes. Landlords are not legally required to have an attorney represent them in court or file legal documents. However, they should be discouraged from doing so. Unlawful detainers are highly technical and it’s often better in the long run to get advice through an attorney from the outset to avoid long delays.
For legal context, a judge will only evict a tenant if the landlord can demonstrate strict legal compliance with all procedural requirements. In other words, one slip up can result in the landlord having to re-start the entire process.
The laws and rules surrounding unlawful detainers are very technical. As an example, what if your tenant owed $2,000 in back rent, $150 in late fees, and $200 in utilities? Would you know to serve two separate notices, a 3-Day to Pay Rent or Quit and a 3-Day to Perform a Covenant or Quit? Would you know the difference between the notices? The rules can be complicated. It’s often better to talk to an attorney rather than face a delay.
Are you a Monterey, Salinas, or Santa Cruz County landlord with additionalquestions about an unlawful detainer? Contact the Law Office of Brian Mathias for a consultation.