Everything You Need to Know About Unlawful Detainer

When a tenant refuses to leave their residence, the landlord can take certain actions in order to have them evicted. However, the landlord cannot make the tenant move out themselves. They must file an unlawful detainer action. This special court proceeding legalizes motions for eviction. In order to file the complaint, the property owner must have previously submitted a notice demanding the tenant either do something (such as make a rent payment) or cease doing something (disruptive behavior). If the notice goes unheeded, the landlord may begin the unlawful detainer action process.

When and Where Can I File an Unlawful Detainer Suit?

To start an unlawful detainer action, one of the following must occur:

  • The landlord-tenant relationship ends – This factor can take shape in many forms. The relationship can end when the tenant refuses to leave after the lease ends. Or the tenant fails to pay rent and adhere to the 3-day notice to pay or quit.
  • Another form of relationship ends – Other form of relationships that can end include that of an employer, licensor, or principal evicting a subordinate.
  • Property is sold – If the property owner sells the land, the contract between the landlord and tenant will end.

To initiate an unlawful detainer, the landlord will need to fill out and submit specific forms the California Courts supply. These forms include:

  • Civil Cover Sheet – This form establishes what suit is being brought forth and is used solely for statistical purposes.
  • Unlawful Detainer Summons – The summons notifies the tenant of their transgression and names the defendants in an unlawful detainer action.
  • Unlawful Detainer Complaint – Only the plaintiff and their lawyers decide what information is included in the complaint. This form should detail exactly what happened, including any incompliance of notification or refusal to pay rent. The landlord should also list any damages they will seek.

The plaintiff will need to file in the appropriate court under which their jurisdiction falls. The Superior Court of California handles these cases and that is where the trial will take place. The County of San Bernardino’s Superior Court has multiple locations you can file.

The Unlawful Detainer Process

Answer / Default
To set the unlawful detainer action in motion, the landlord will need to serve the tenant with the complaint and summons. The tenant has five days, beginning the day after the summons was received, to file an answer. For them to file a response, they must submit formal papers in response to the summons. At that point, the case will go to trial.

If the tenant does not respond during their prescribed time, the landlord can ask the court to enter a default against the tenant. Once the default has been submitted, the defendant can no longer respond to the summons. The default allows the property owner to ask the judge to rule in their favor, thus barring the tenant’s participation.

Trial / Declaration
For the landlord to obtain a judgement, they will need to present their case to the Court, regardless of whether the tenant responded. The plaintiff must prove that there was a written or oral landlord-tenant agreement, that the tenant failed to uphold their side of the contract, and that the relationship has ended with a properly served notice.

If the matter is uncontested, the matter can be resolved with a short court appearance or a written declaration of a default judgement.

If the tenant contests the summons, both parties must go to trial. The process can be complicated, which is why having an experienced attorney present can help the case.

Once both parties present their case in court, the judge will have time to deliberate and present their judgement. The court clerk issues a “Writ of Execution” establishing the judge’s ruling. If in favor of the landlord, the Marshal can execute the steps listed.

Regaining Property
If the court rules in the landlord’s favor, the plaintiff can begin the reclamation of their property. The Marshal will receive the “Writ of Execution” and can begin the process of evicting the tenant. The Marshal will first post a five-day notice informing the tenant to move. They will return in five days’ time, and if the tenant is not gone, will forcibly remove them. The property owner then has the right to change their locks and reclaim their property.

Unruly tenants who refuse to follow directions can be highly frustrating. If you are a landlord looking to evict their residents, contact our Rancho Cucamonga civil litigation attorneys. We have experience handling the most volatile of situations. Allow us to use our skill for your case! Call today for a free consultation!