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7 steps when taking a tenant to court

As a landlord in California, you have seen it all. Your job gets harder when tenants act in ways that prod eviction. While eviction is a scary thought for most, some people don’t take the process seriously. It’s a part of the rental business you probably dread.

There hits a point when it’s no longer acceptable for a tenant to inhabit the property. Maybe they are not paying their rent, have more pets than allowed, damaged property or are involved in drug-related activities.

Whatever the case, you know the tenant needs to leave. But what if they won’t without a fight?

Self-help evictions happen, but it’s illegal. It may seem like a good idea to lock them out or shut off the utilities. But this could result in you getting in trouble. So, if a tenant refuses eviction, it’s best to take them to court rather than deal with it on your own.

In California, the formal eviction process follows certain steps, which include:

  1. Give a notice. You need to give your tenant a written notice. The tenant gets an allotted time to act. If they don’t, you can file an unlawful detainer case in court. These notices can be purchased in store. There are different kinds of notices. Therefore, you want to make sure you choose the right one and fill it out correctly so it abides by California laws. Mistakes could lead to you losing the case.
  2. Fill out the forms. Assuming your tenant still hasn’t left, you’ll need to start the unlawful detainer case. To do this, you fill out 3 court forms, which are:
    • Summons
    • Complaint
    • Civil case cover sheet
  3. File your complaint. Once you find the court, turn your forms in to the clerk. You should have the original forms, as well as copies. There is a court filing fee, but you can request a fee waiver. The court will review and stamp your forms and keep the original copies. You and the tenant will both be given stamped copies.
  4. Serve the tenant. Moving forward, you will need to serve the tenant with the unlawful detainer papers. You can first try giving it to the tenant. If you can’t reach them after a few tries, it’s acceptable to give them to a competent member of the household. If you don’t find success with the above, the court needs to give you permission to mail or post the papers.
  5. Wait for the tenant to respond. The tenant might not respond. They might respond with an answer, or respond through the court. If you served them in person, they have 5 days. If you mailed the papers, they will have 15 days.
  6. Trial date. At this point, hopefully the tenant responds. You’ll then be able to request a trial date. An agreement between you and the tenant during any of these steps is possible. Sometimes landlords and tenants reach settlements leading right up to court. Therefore, you can dismiss it.
  7. Court judgment. The judge will make a decision. You or the tenant can appeal if either of you are unhappy with the judgment. It’s wise to seek legal advice throughout the process, especially if you do plan to appeal.

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