California Tenant Eviction Laws & Requirements: An Overview for San Diego Landlords

If you are a landlord for a San Diego property and have made it to this blog post, you have likely exhausted all other options and are left with no other choice but to start the eviction proceedings or unlawful detainer complaint with your current tenant.

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As a landlord in California, understanding tenant eviction laws is paramount to protecting your rights and ensuring a smooth property management experience. Beginning on January 1st, 2020, California Civil Code 1946.2 introduced Just Cause provisions regarding evictions resulting in 2 types of evictions: At-Fault & No-Fault. Landlords with properties within the City of San Diego should also review San Diego Municipal Code “Residential Tenant Protections” and consult with your attorney to understand additional requirements or exemptions as local ordinances may provide additional protections.

At Fault Evictions:

    • Non-payment of Rent
    • Breach of a Material Term of the Lease
    • Nuisance Activity, Waste, or Use for Unlawful Purposes
    • Criminal Activity
    • Refusal to Provide Access
    • Refusal to Sign a New Lease of similar terms

No Fault Evictions:

    • Owner or Relative Move-In
    • Intent to Demolish or Substantially Remodel
    • Withdrawal of Rental Unit from the Rental Market
    • Government Order

Both At Fault and No Fault evictions contain additional requirements and circumstances not listed in this overview.

Key Take-aways

  • Evictions can be stressful, expensive, and emotionally taxing for both landlords and tenants.
  • There are several costs associated with the eviction process, including court fees, legal fees, lost rent, property damage, cleaning and maintenance, and re-renting costs.
  • Proactive measures such as conducting thorough tenant screenings, maintaining open communication with tenants, addressing maintenance issues promptly, and having a clear lease agreement can help prevent eviction situations.
  • Staying updated on rental laws is crucial to ensure compliance and avoid legal issues.
  • A professional property management company can provide essential services like tenant screening, maintenance management, and eviction handling, which can significantly minimize the risk of eviction.
  • Employing a property manager can provide landlords with peace of mind, knowing their property is being managed efficiently and effectively.

Understanding the Eviction Process

To successfully navigate tenant evictions, it's crucial to have a solid understanding California law as it relates to the eviction process. Familiarize yourself with the legal requirements and timelines involved. Understanding the eviction process will help you make informed decisions and take appropriate actions when necessary.

The California eviction process for landlords consists of 5 fundamental steps as described below.

  1. Give Notice
  2. Start a Court Case
  3. Request a Trial Date or Default Judgment
  4. Go to Trial
  5. Post Judicial Decision

Let's dive into each step.

Giving Notice

Before beginning to evict tenants, landlords in California must provide tenants with a written notice to vacate, also known as an eviction notice. The type of eviction notice required depends on the reason for the eviction and whether it is considered an At Fault or No Fault eviction.

Types of Eviction Notices

In California, there are primarily three types of eviction notices that landlords can issue to tenants depending on the reason for eviction:

    • 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit: Used in instances of non-payment of rent, this notice gives the tenant three days to pay the rent due or vacate the property.
    • 3-Day Notice to Cure or Quit: This notice is served when the tenant violates a term or condition of the lease. The tenant would have three days to correct the violation or leave the property.
    • 30-Day or 60-Day Notice to Quit: These are used in No Fault eviction scenarios. If the tenant has resided in the property for less than a year, a 30-day notice is required. However, if the tenant has resided in the property for a year or more, a 60-day notice is required.

Each type of eviction notice must comply with specific legal requirements, including how they're served to the tenant, what information they contain, and when they can be issued. Proper issuance and documentation of these eviction notices is crucial, as any missteps in this process can result in delays or legal repercussions.

For a more comprehensive understanding and guidance on which eviction notice to choose and how to serve it correctly, refer to the California Courts Self-Help Guide on Evictions. This resource provides valuable information on the different types of notices and their appropriate usage based on unique situations. As always, it is crucial to strictly adhere to these guidelines to avoid any legal ramifications that could potentially jeopardize your eviction process.

Starting a Court Case

If the tenant does not comply with the eviction notice, landlords can then file an unlawful detainer action. This is done by submitting a summons and complaint to the court clerk's office in the county where the property is located. The filing fee for this action varies depending on location.

The court will then issue a summons and serve it to the tenant, which informs them of the court case and provides them with an opportunity to respond. The tenant will have five days from the date of service to file a response with the court. If they fail to respond within this time frame, the landlord can request a default judgment. However, if the tenant does respond, a trial date will be set.

Court Forms for Unlawful Detainer Action

Initiating an unlawful detainer action involves filing several forms with the court. These include:

    • Summons (Form SUM-130): This legal document informs the tenant about the lawsuit and instructs them to respond.
    • Complaint – Unlawful Detainer (Form UD-100): In this form, the landlord outlines the reasons for the eviction.
    • Civil Case Cover Sheet (Form CM-010): This is used to categorize the type of case being filed.
    • Proof of Service of Summons (Form POS-010): This is filed by the person who served the summons to the tenant, attesting to the fact of service.

Remember to keep copies of all forms for your own records. These forms must be correctly filled out and submitted in line with the local court's requirements. You can find these forms on the California Courts Forms website. Please consult with a legal professional to ensure that all forms are accurately completed and properly served.

Requesting a Trial Date or Default Judgment

If the tenant fails to respond within five days of being served with a summons, landlords can request a default judgment from the court. If granted, this means that the court has ruled in favor of the landlord and ordered the tenant to leave the property immediately.

However, if the tenant does respond within five days, a trial date will be set. During this time, both parties can present their cases to the court and have a judge make a final decision.

Note that there are certain defenses that tenants can use to contest an eviction, such as landlord retaliation or discrimination. Therefore, it's crucial to have all the necessary documents and evidence to support your case and prove that the eviction is justified.

Serving the Papers

Once the papers have been filed with the court, they must be served to the tenant. The landlord cannot do this personally. In California, you have two main options for serving the papers:

    1. Service by a Registered Process Server: Hire a registered process server to personally deliver the papers to the tenant. The process server will then provide a proof of service form confirming that the tenant received the documents.
    2. Service by Posting and Mailing (with court permission): If the tenant avoids personal service, you may ask the court for permission to serve by posting and mailing. This involves posting the forms at a visible place on the property, like the front door, and also mailing them to the tenant.

Whichever method you choose, you must file a proof of service form with the court to demonstrate that the tenant has been notified of the legal action against them. Remember: proper service of papers is critical to moving your eviction case forward. If the court finds that the tenant wasn't properly served, the case could be dismissed.

Once the tenant has been served the eviction papers, there are three potential outcomes:

  1. Tenant Complies with the Notice: If the eviction notice was a “Notice to Pay Rent or Quit” or a “Notice to Cure or Quit”, the tenant might address the issue by paying the overdue rent or rectifying the lease violation within the stipulated time frame. In such a case, the eviction process stops.
  2. Tenant Vacates the Property: If the tenant acknowledges the eviction notice and doesn't want to or can't rectify the situation, they may choose to vacate the property within the notice period. This is the ideal outcome for most landlords as it avoids the need for a court process.
  3. Tenant Contest the Eviction: If the tenant disagrees with the eviction notice, they may decide to contest it. This means they'll stay in the property and the issue will likely have to be settled in court. The tenant might argue against the validity of the eviction notice or could raise defenses such as retaliation, discrimination, or uninhabitable conditions. In this scenario, a court hearing will be scheduled where both parties can present their cases before a judge for a final ruling.

Going to Trial

If a trial date has been set, both parties must appear in court with all relevant documents. The landlord must present evidence that the tenant violated the terms of their lease or failed to pay rent, while the tenant can present any defenses they may have. The judge will then make a decision based on the evidence presented and issue a ruling.

If the landlord is successful in their case, the judge will grant them a judgment for possession of the property. This means that they have the legal right to take back possession of their property from the tenant. However, if the tenant prevails, then they can remain in the rental unit.

Note that even after winning a court case, the landlord cannot take immediate action to remove the tenant from the property. The eviction process still requires obtaining a writ of possession and having it executed by the local sheriff's office. In some cases, tenants may also appeal a court decision, which can delay the eviction further.

In addition to granting possession of the property back to the landlord, the court may also award damages to the landlord in certain situations. This could include any unpaid rent, court costs, or attorney's fees, as long as they are allowed by law or stipulated in the lease agreement.

Post Judicial Decision

Once the eviction process has been completed and a decision has been made by the court, there are a few potential outcomes:

  1. Tenant Vacates the Property: If the tenant is ordered to vacate the property and they comply with the court's decision, then the landlord can take back possession of the property.
  2. Tenant Appeals or Requests for Stay: In some cases, tenants may appeal a court decision or request for a stay, which temporarily halts the eviction process. As such, landlords may have to wait longer before they can regain possession of their property.
  3. Tenant Refuses to Vacate: If the tenant refuses to vacate the property despite a court order, then the landlord will have to obtain a writ of possession and have the local sheriff's office execute it. This process can take several weeks, depending on the workload of the sheriff's office.

Notice of Eviction and Lockout by the Sheriff

Once the court grants a judgment in favor of the landlord, the next step is to obtain a Writ of Possession from the court. This document authorizes the local sheriff's office or local law enforcement to evict the tenant.

Posting the Notice

Upon receiving the Writ of Possession, local law enforcement or the local sheriff will post a “Notice to Vacate” at the rental property. The notice typically gives the tenant 5 days to vacate the premises. The specific time frame, however, might vary based on local laws. It's crucial to remember that it is only the sheriff, and not the landlord, who is authorized to post this notice.

Sheriff Lockout

If the tenant does not vacate the property within the timeframe specified in the Notice to Vacate, the sheriff will return to the property and perform what is known as a “lockout.” During the lockout, the sheriff officially removes the tenant from the property and gives possession back to the landlord. This is the final step in the eviction process.

The landlord can now change the locks and begin preparations for re-renting the property. All these processes must follow the local rules and regulations to avoid any legal issues in the future.

Remember, each step in the eviction process must be carried out in accordance with the law. Any misstep could lead to delays or legal repercussions. Therefore, it is always advisable to consult with a legal professional when dealing with eviction matters.

Additional Resources:

Costs of the Eviction Process

Evicting a tenant can be a costly affair for landlords. The total cost can vary greatly depending on a range of factors including the type of eviction, legal fees, duration of the process, and potential property damage. Below are some of the apparent and hidden costs associated with the eviction process.

  1. Filing & Court Fees: The immediate cost of an eviction is the court filing fee, which varies by location but can range from $50 to a few hundred dollars.
  2. Legal Fees: If landlords choose to hire an attorney, they will need to account for legal fees. Depending on the complexity of the case, these can range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
  3. Sheriff's Fee: There is usually a nominal fee for the sheriff's service in executing the writ of possession.
  4. Lost Rent: During the eviction process, landlords often lose rental income, especially if the tenant refuses to pay rent during the process which can last several weeks or even months.
  5. Property Damage: In some cases, disgruntled tenants might cause property damage which can lead to significant repair costs.
  6. Cleaning and Maintenance Costs: Once the tenant is evicted, the landlord may need to clean, repair, and prepare the property for the next tenant.
  7. Marketing and Re-renting Costs: Landlords may need to advertise the property, conduct viewings, or even hire a leasing agent to find a new tenant and execute a new rental agreement.

While landlords may be able to recover some of these costs (like unpaid rent or property damage) through court-awarded damages, the reality is that collecting these funds can be a complex and time-consuming process. Therefore, it is crucial for landlords to carefully consider these potential costs before initiating an eviction proceeding.


Evictions are strenuous, expensive, and can be emotionally draining for both landlords and tenants. The best defense against evictions for landlords is indeed a good offense. This entails proactive measures that can help prevent situations that lead to eviction in the first place.

A few strategies include conducting thorough tenant screenings, maintaining open lines of communication with tenants, promptly addressing maintenance issues, and having a clear, comprehensive lease or rental agreement. It's also important to stay updated on federal, state, and local rental laws to ensure compliance at all times.

By taking these proactive steps, landlords can minimize the risk of eviction, saving time, money, and stress in the long run.

The Value of a Professional Property Manager

Engaging a professional property management company can be a game-changer for landlords when it comes to effective rental property management and eviction prevention. These professionals come equipped with a deep understanding of the real estate market, local laws, and tenant management, making them uniquely qualified to handle a vast range of issues related to property management.

A proficient property manager will conduct a thorough tenant screening, a crucial step in ensuring you rent to reliable and responsible individuals while complying with tenant protection law and California eviction laws. This includes background checks, credit checks, and past landlord references, which can minimize the risk of late or missed rent payments, property damage, or potential evictions down the line.

Furthermore, a property manager will maintain open lines of communication with the tenants, address maintenance issues promptly, and ensure the lease or rental agreement is comprehensive and clear. They can also stay updated on federal, state, and local rental laws, ensuring compliance and potentially saving landlords from costly legal issues.

In the unfortunate event of a tenant dispute or eviction, having a professional property manager is invaluable. They can handle the process in accordance with the law, minimizing stress and potential mistakes.

Overall, utilizing the services of a professional property manager can provide landlords with peace of mind, knowing their property is being managed efficiently and effectively, ultimately minimizing the risk of having to evict a tenant.

The Crestmont Team


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