Most of your tenants may vacate your property without any fuss when their leases end. However, occasionally, you may have a tenant that refuses to vacate for any number of reasons.
The problem is that you can't just change the locks or go in and force the tenant out. You must follow certain legal procedures in order to remove the tenant. California uses a summary procedure called an unlawful detainer in order to achieve this goal.
What a landlord can't do
Despite what you may want to do, you must avoid the following actions:
- Cutting off utilities
- Changing locks
- Physically removing tenant
- Removing outer doors and windows
- Seizing tenants belongings
These actions could end up getting you in trouble instead of removing a tenant who won't leave. The court could assess fines against you in the amount of $100 for each day that you use these or other unlawful measures to remove a tenant. In addition, you could end up owing the tenant money for any damages.
What a landlord can do
Instead, you could file an unlawful detainer. The goal is to ensure that the tenant has a chance to present his or her side of the case. After the notice period ends, you may file the appropriate paperwork. The law designs these proceedings to move swiftly. Your tenant may have only five days to respond once he or she receives the notice. Within 20 days thereafter, the parties may attend a hearing.
If the court rules in your favor, the court issues you a "writ of possession," which gives you the legal right to have the tenant removed. However, only the sheriff's office can actually execute the writ. If your tenant still refuses to leave, you now have the legal authority you need to ask sheriff's deputies to assist you in reclaiming your property.
What some help can do
It's vital that you make sure you follow to the letter the legal steps necessary to obtain the writ of possession. Any misstep could keep you from regaining your property in a timely manner. The more time that goes by, the greater the possibility that an unruly tenant could damage your property or at least continue to live rent-free.
You need to be sure that you provide the court with the appropriate evidence. You may also need preparation for the questions a judge will ask at the hearing. It might benefit you greatly to enlist some assistance in this type of matter in order to help ensure that the proceedings go as smoothly as possible.