Understanding the California Eviction Process: A Guide for Homeowners

Written By Melanie Kershaw

Last Updated Mar 28, 2023

An image of a brown gavel on a white background, depicting the legal eviction process in California

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Evicting a tenant from your home is not a decision that can be made lightly. But if you’re not receiving rent or someone has violated your lease agreement, you have the right to protect your interests. When it’s time to take action, what do you need to know? How long does the eviction process take in California? What does it cost? Do you really need to go to court?

This guide will step you through what homeowners can expect from California’s eviction process, answering the following questions:

  • What are the reasons you can evict someone from a rental home in California?
  • Do I have to take tenants to court to evict them from my home?
  • How do I find my local court to process an eviction?
  • How much does an eviction cost in California?
  • What written notice do I need to give tenants before an eviction case?
  • Can I force a renter to leave my California property?
  • How long does the eviction process take in California?

Note: This article provides a guide for homeowners of residential property for rent in California on the eviction process, but should not replace legal advice. Every eviction case is unique, so a lawyer can help remedy your exact situation. Belong refers to renters as ‘residents’ rather than ‘tenants’, so this article is based on people who pay rent and live in your property under a residential lease agreement, and is not applicable to people who are staying at the home short-term or under a personal arrangement. Occasionally we will use the words tenant and landlord for clarity on legal matters. 

You can find more information on local tenant rights, laws, and protections for the state of California from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

What are the reasons you can evict someone from a rental home in California? 

In California, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019 enforces reasons (or “just cause”) needed in order to evict a resident from your rental home. Some local jurisdictions have stronger protections that may also apply to your home, such as the San Francisco Rent Ordinance

Broadly, the valid reasons for eviction in California include:

  • Non-payment of rent
  • Not vacating after a lease has ended and/or notice has expired 
  • Violation of lease terms
  • Criminal or illegal conduct on the property
  • Denying you access to the property (when you have given proper notice and have a legal right to enter the property)
  • Not upholding responsibilities under tenant-landlord law, such as destroying or defacing the premises, having a pet without permission, or unreasonably disturbing neighbors in a breach of the peace

You can also cancel the rental agreement with proper notice if you intend to sell or move back into the home. Proper notice should be defined in your signed rental agreement and is usually 30 - 60 days written notice, though some agreements allow for less, with a minimum of 7 days. 

During 2020 - 2022, California had additional protections in place and an eviction moratorium to prevent people from becoming homeless during the height of the pandemic. These protections and extensions ended as of January 2023. 

While tenants have been protected from eviction for non-payment of rent due to COVID-related hardship, they will eventually be required to pay back the unpaid rent. Landlords can request a repayment plan or seek other remedies through the courts. Tenants with an approved COVID-related hardship have a grace period to pay back rent owed: 

  • Rent owed from March 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021 must be paid by August 1, 2023.

  • Rent owed from October 1, 2021 to January 31, 2023 must be paid by February 1, 2024.

After this period (or if they never filed the correct paperwork for a COVID-related hardship), if you have tenants that still owe rental debt from this period, you are entitled to sue them for COVID-19 rental debt in small claims or civil court. This is separate to an eviction process so legal advice should be obtained before pursuing this avenue.

It’s also worth noting that your residents may be protected by other laws outside of the eviction moratorium. Homeowners should be familiar with local regulations and how they may apply to their specific rental properties, seeking advice from their property manager or an attorney before taking action. 

Do I have to take tenants to court to evict them from my home?

In California, all evictions go through the courts, with homeowners filing what’s called an “Unlawful Detainer”. 

Before this process starts, you should give your residents written notice of the issue (such as non-payment of rent or lease violation) and give them an opportunity to rectify the situation. If they don’t, you can start the process of eviction. 

An alternative to going to court is Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). This is like an out-of-court settlement, giving both parties the opportunity to resolve the matter together. ODR avoids the need to travel to the courts and can provide guided negotiation and the option for mediation or support from a housing counselor to help reach an agreement. If one is reached, the ODR process allows you to complete the necessary forms and submit them to court online, at least two days before the trial date. If an agreement isn’t reached or the deadline is missed, you will need to go to trial unless the case is settled another way. 

How do I find my local court to process an eviction or ODR?

California has 58 trial courts, one for each county. You can find which court you will need to go through by entering the zip code of your rental home in the Judicial Branch of California court finder

How much does an eviction cost in California?

This depends! Because of the legal nature of evictions, every case is unique and costs can vary considerably. The fees to file an unlawful detainer cost between $240 - $450, depending on how much rent you’re owed. There may be some additional forms to file based on your local county court. If you require an attorney or civil action is required, costs will be significantly higher than a straightforward case. 

If you expect that your property management fees will cover the costs of an eviction, be sure to check the fine print. When we ranked the top-rated property management companies in California, we found that many eviction protection packages cover filing fees only or have strict limitations that can leave you with considerable out of pocket expenses if things aren’t straightforward. Not only does eviction protection increase your management fees, most still charge for overseeing the eviction process and add on additional costs if any of their staff need to attend court on your behalf. 

If you choose to partner with Belong, you’ll have real peace of mind that your eviction process is supported. If Belong ever needs to evict a resident that we have chosen (not existing leases or tenants), Belong will cover legal costs up to $15,000. 

What written notice do I need to give tenants before an eviction case?

You must notify your residents in writing when they have breached their lease agreement or failed to pay rent. The notice period gives them a chance to pay owed rent, fix a problem, or move out before a court case is started. Weekends and court holidays are not included in notice periods. 

To choose the right type of eviction notice, first speak to your property manager, an attorney, or use the self-help guides provided by the California Courts. If you use the wrong notice or get the information wrong, it could jeopardize your eviction case. 

Notice of an eviction for non-payment of rent

If a resident is behind on their rent, you must give them three days' written notice to pay or move out. 

Here’s what happens next:

  • If the resident pays the rent within the three-day period, you can’t proceed with an eviction and the resident continues their existing lease arrangement. If it happens again, the process must be repeated.

  • If you don’t receive the rent, but the resident vacates within the three-days, you may use the security deposit to cover the unpaid rent. If the security deposit doesn’t cover all of the rent due, you have the option to sue for the amount owing.

  • If the resident doesn’t pay the rent and remains in the home, you can serve a 3-day notice to vacate the premises. 

Homeowners should also be aware of their obligations under California’s landlord-tenant statute to ensure the home is habitable and remains in good repair. If you fail to do so, your resident has the right to withhold rent, provided they issue you with a notice of their intent. You will be given notice to correct the defect/s and the resident can’t be forced to pay rent or threatened with eviction during this period. 

Did you know?: In 2021, census data indicated that almost 6 million households (15% of all renters in the US!) were behind on their rent payments. That also means there are millions of homeowners not earning income on their rental properties. Belong has eliminated this issue by offering Guaranteed Rent. By vetting and qualifying all of our residents, we pay homeowners rent on schedule, regardless of when we receive it. Learn more here.  

Notice of an eviction during a month-to-month tenancy

If your residential lease agreement has ended and there is a periodical (month-to-month) arrangement in place, you can provide either 30 or 60 days’ written notice to vacant. Note that just cause and local protections still apply in this instance, such as unpaid rent or if you want to move in or sell the home. If the resident remains in the home after the notice period, you have cause to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. 

Written notice periods depend on how long the resident has lived in the home:

  • Less than a year: 30 days notice
  • More than a year: 60 days notice

Notice of eviction for lease violation 

If your resident has violated their lease, you can issue them with a notice that gives them three days to rectify the situation. For example, if your tenancy agreement states “no pets allowed” and they adopt a cat, you should give them notice to surrender or rehome the cat before proceeding with the eviction process. 

For serious violations, like conducting illegal activity on your property or causing major damage that will reduce the value of your home, you can serve three days notice to move out, without providing prior notice to fix the problem. 

Regardless of the situation, it’s worth getting legal assistance to put written notices together, as you must include all essential information such as the violation and the final date to vacate. If the notice contains any errors, it’s considered defective and you may be required to start the process and notice period over again. 

Can I force a renter to leave my California property?

Only a law enforcement official has the authority to remove someone under a writ of possession, obtained through the court system.

You should never take matters into your own hands when you need a tenant to leave. Activities such as shutting off the utilities or changing the locks to your home to keep a renter out is classified as a “self-help” eviction and is illegal in California. In this instance, the tenant would be within their rights to take legal action against you in civil court. 

If you are found to be forcing an eviction illegally, you will be required to pay the tenant any out-of-pocket losses from your actions, plus $100 per day of violation, with a minimum charge of $250. If for example you changed the locks and the resident stayed in a hotel — they could claim back this cost, as well as court costs and legal fees. 

You must also ensure you don’t attempt to evict a tenant based on:

  • Race, sex, religious beliefs, marital status, family size, job, a disability, or because they are receiving public assistance
  • Retaliation for filing a complaint if something is broken or violates code, for calling emergency services, or for taking other actions against you

How long does the eviction process take in California?

According to the California Courts at the time of writing, the eviction process takes around 30-45 days, but can be longer. This starts from when you have served notice to your residents to the time they need to move out. 

The process is likely to take longer if your residents contest the eviction, arguing that you didn’t meet your obligations as the homeowner or interfered with the process such as changing the locks. 

If the courts approve your eviction, the sheriff will serve the resident with a Notice to Vacate, providing five days to move out. If the resident has a good reason for needing more time, they can file a motion for a stay of execution to ask the judge for some extra time before having to move out. In this instance, they will need to pay you for the extra time and it must be approved by the courts before their 5-day deadline has passed. 

As mentioned earlier, it’s important not to interfere with the resident’s belongings or change the locks during their notice period. If they do not vacate, a law enforcement officer will need to handle their removal from the property. 

Protect yourself from an ugly eviction process

There is a way to avoid the headaches and cost of evictions. Ditch the DIY route and property managers to work with a residential network that will put the best people in your home. With first-class vetting, guaranteed rent and real protection against costly evictions, you can rest easy knowing Belong is looking after you and your Californian home. Check out one of our homeowner pages below to see if you qualify:

About the author

Melanie Kershaw

Mel Kershaw is a Content Lead at Belong. With an extensive background working with technology companies including Eventbrite and Yelp, she’s always looking for ways to create educational and informative articles that simplifies tech and solves problems for her audience.