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Ensuring a Fair and Effective Eviction Process: Guidelines for California Landlords

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Evicting a tenant can be a difficult and emotional process for California landlords, and we always recommend that you don’t rush into it. Often, there are ways to avoid evicting a tenant, even if it means being flexible on when and how you collect rent. If there’s a way to work something out, we strongly recommend that you try and work something out. 

However, sometimes there is no other option; your tenant is being uncommunicative or combative, or it’s simply impossible to work with them on getting rent paid or lease violations cured. At some point, it becomes necessary to protect your property and your business by removing your tenant from the property. 

This is California, which has some of the strictest tenant laws in the country. There are numerous protections in place that will dictate how and when you evict, and what kind of process you follow to get it done. 

Make sure you know that process. It is important to know the procedures and rules set by California law to conduct a fair and effective eviction. This will not only protect your interests but also ensure that your tenant’s rights are respected. 

We stay up to date on California laws and regulations, so we’re well-versed in eviction procedures even though we work hard to avoid them. If you find yourself unable to collect rent from your tenant, unable to bring them into compliance after a lease violation, or you suspect the tenant is breaking the law or doing something illegal inside your property, get help from a local property manager or an attorney right away. Going straight to eviction, you could miss some important steps and make an expensive legal mistake. 

Here are some guidelines on how you can ensure a fair and effective eviction process. We’ll also talk a little bit about how to avoid and prevent evictions in your rental property

Just Cause Eviction Laws and Grounds for Removing a Tenant 

In California, you need to have a legal reason to evict your tenant. The law allows you to evict under one of the following situations: 

  • Nonpayment of rent. If your tenant defaults on his or her rental payment obligations, you can begin an eviction. Serve the Notice to Pay or Vacate, and then move forward with the eviction filing at court if a tenant does not catch up and make the rental payment and refuses to leave the property. Make sure you have a copy of your lease, where you indicate how much rent is due, when it’s due, and how it’s to be paid. Prepare to provide copies of your ledger that show rent hasn’t been paid, and always retain copies of any tenant communication. Defaulting on rent will always be a good reason to evict a tenant. 
  • Not vacating. Your tenant has not renewed your lease after the end of the tenancy but also has not given notice of their intent to move out. If a lease has ended after January 1, 2020, but your tenant refuses to renew or move, you can start eviction proceedings.  
  • Lease violations. Have you noticed a lease violation and your tenant has refused to cure it? If they won’t come into compliance even after you serve the required notices, you can evict them for failing to adhere to the lease and not complying with the written contract that was agreed upon and signed. 
  • Criminal activity. If there is a criminal act committed in your property, either in the tenant’s private residence or in the communal areas of an apartment building, you can evict within days. Make sure you have evidence and can support your claim before you evict your tenant. 

Keep in mind that retaliatory evictions are strictly prohibited in California.

Serving a Proper Notice Before You Evict

Serving the notice correctly is vital in the eviction process. Most evictions occur because of nonpayment of rent, and when you are approaching eviction for that reason, you must first send your tenants a Three Day Notice to Pay or Quit. 

The notice must be addressed to the tenant by name or names, and it should clearly state what you want them to do. In the case of nonpayment, you’ll instruct them to catch up with the rent that’s due within the three days or move out of the property. 

Usually, you can expect your tenants to catch up with the rental payment at this point because they won’t want the situation to escalate. They may ask if they can make a partial payment or pay a few days or a week from the date of the notice. How you handle this depends on whether you’re eager to get the tenant out or you’re hoping to keep the tenant in place and ultimately collect the payment. If you do agree to a payment arrangement, put it in writing and move forward with the eviction process if the tenant does not come through. 

As we have said, it’s better to work with your residents when you can. Treat them with respect and compassion, and encourage them to get the payment in as soon as possible. You can still move forward with the eviction process if they don’t come through or follow the terms of the payment arrangements, but be prepared to call the eviction off when the rent does get paid. This is fair.

Next Steps: File the Unlawful Detainer Action

If the rent is not paid when it should be or the lease violation has not been cured, you then have the option to file the unlawful detainer action in court. An unlawful detainer is the legal way of initiating the lawsuit that evicts the tenant from your property. 

Ensure that you file the unlawful detainer in the correct court within the appropriate time frame. Once the tenant has been served with the unlawful detainer, they will have five days to respond.

This is where things can get sticky, and if you’re going full into the eviction, you may want to consider legal representation. We can make referrals or help you navigate the process. However, an experienced landlord and tenant attorney will have experience in the court system and know how to best position you for a fast, efficient, and fair eviction. 

Something else to consider is your wait time. The courts are backed up in California; they have been since the pandemic, and you can expect that things might still move a bit slower than you’d like. This is another excellent reason to avoid evictions when you can.

If the tenant responds within the five days given, a court hearing will be scheduled. In court, you must present your case for eviction and provide evidence supporting the ground for the eviction. The judge will hear both sides and make a decision based on the evidence presented. If the judge grants the eviction, the sheriff’s department will serve a Writ of Possession, giving the tenant their final notice to move out.

Guidelines for Avoiding Evictions in California 

Preventing evictions will save you time, money, and a lot of frustration. Eviction should be a last resort, always. Focus on these things before rushing to the courthouse. 

  • Invest in rigorous tenant screening

Don’t rent to tenants who have a history of evictions. During the screening process, make sure you’re closely evaluating their rental history. Talk to former landlords if you can. Ask if rent was paid on time and if they took good care of the property. Always check for prior evictions. 

  • Enforce your rent collection policy

Put a rent collection policy in place that prevents the late and missing rent payments that often lead to eviction. Make sure you share your rent collection policy with your tenants before they move in, and then reinforce it throughout the tenancy. Your lease agreement should reflect all the consequences of paying rent late, including late fees and the potential for eviction. 

  • Create positive tenant relationships

You’re less likely to have to evict a tenant with whom you have a positive and respectful relationship. Make sure you’re putting every effort into working well with your residents. Eviction will be rare. 

It is essential to follow California laws in every step of the eviction process. Doing so will guarantee that the eviction is conducted in a fair and effective way. Make sure you understand the legal procedures and timelines and consult with a lawyer as necessary to avoid any legal issues and delays.

Evicting TenantThere is no doubt that evicting a tenant is a challenging process for landlords, but following the proper procedures will make it fair and effective. It is advisable to have an experienced attorney who can guide you through the process and ensure that you comply with the provisions of the law. If you aren’t prepared to contact an attorney but you’d still like some professional help, get in touch with a local property manager. We can help you. By understanding the grounds for eviction, serving the notice properly, filing the unlawful detainer action, attending the court hearing, and following California law, you’ll be able to ensure you’re conducting a fair and effective eviction in California.

Don’t wait too long to get help. Contact us at Real Property Management Choice. 

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