Los Angeles California Landlord Tenant Eviction Guide
|Prepared By: Melissa C. Marsh, Los Angeles Landlord-Tenant Attorney
Written: March 2010 - Last Updated: November 2016
California Landlord Tenant Eviction Guide
If you are a tenant in Los Angeles County and you would like Ms. Marsh to prepare an Answer to an Eviction (unlawful detainer) filed against you, the fee is just $349. Call to 818-849-5206 for an appointment.
If you are a landlord in Los Angeles County and would like Ms. Marsh to prepare a 3 Day Notice to pay Rent or Quit ($139 residential), or a 3 Day Notice to Cure ($250+), or an Eviction Complaint for just $499, please call Ms. Marsh at 818-849-5206.
The Eviction Process in Los Angeles County, California.
In Los Angeles County, the eviction process begins with a notice (3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, 3 Day Notice to Cure or Quit, 3 Day Notice to Quit, or a 30-Day or 60-Day Notice To Vacate).
Caution is advised
with the preparation of 3 30 and 60 Day Notices, especially in rent controlled jurisdictions like Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Many of the online free forms (even from attorney websites) are invalid, or are completed improperly and thereafter need to be redone and re-served causing California landlords to lose valuable time, and in some cases to lose the eviction case itself. Many of these free forms are provided by attorneys seeking to lure you into retaining their services and thereafter paying for either a proper notice, or worse two unlawful detainer cases.
Both California Landlords and tenants should also be aware that in some rent controlled areas, a three day notice is invalid if the landlord has not previously and properly served the tenant with the Certificate of Registration and notice of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance.
Further complications may arise if the California landlord is the new owner of the property (through foreclosure, trust sale, inheritance, or standard purchase), as other notices may need to have been properly prepared and served on the tenant before a 3 Day Notice can be served.
Preparing and Filing an Eviction Summons and Complaint in Los Angeles California.
After service of a proper 3 Day Notice, if the tenant does not cure the claimed default, or move out by the end of the notice period, the landlord can then file an eviction lawsuit known as an unlawful detainer. To do so, the landlord must properly prepare and file a Summons and Complaint which include: Summons and Complaint ("UD"). In an eviction proceeding, the landlord is called the plaintiff and the tenant is the defendant.
Caution is again advised with the preparation of a Summons and Complaint because a single error (one wrong checkbox, or one single miscalculation, can nullify the eviction causing the landlord to lose (the judge can dismiss the case and force the landlord to start the process all over). All it takes is one typo, or the failure to check a single box correctly. I cannot tell you how many landlords come to me with a three day notice they downloaded off the internet that isn't valid, or won't hold up before the judges in Los Angeles County. That said, once a landlord has been provided a proper form three day notice to pay rent or quit with instructions on how to fill it out and properly serve it with proof sufficient for a court to rule in the landlord's favor, most landlords can prepare their own 3 Day Notices to Pay Rent or Quit. That said, few if any landlords can properly prepare a three day notice to cure or quit, especially if their units are in a rent controlled jurisdiction.
Landlords in Los Angeles County should also be aware that just because their unit is not subject to actual rent control (e.g. a condominium in some instances, or a single family residence), in many instances the unit is still subject to the rent control provisions pertaining to eviction.
Serving an Eviction Summons and Complaint.
After the eviction lawsuit is filed, the landlord must then have the tenants served with the Summons and Complaint which takes anywhere from 1 to 10 days. The person who serves the Summons and Complaint must file the Proof of Service of Summons. Once the tenant is served, the tenant has ONLY 5 DAYS to answer the complaint (if personally served) and 15 days if sub-served. If the tenant doesn't respond in time, the landlord can file a Request for a Default. If a Summons and Complaint was properly prepared and served, two defaults will need to be filed: One on the named tenant(s) and another one on "all others in possession." When the last default is ready to be filed, the landlord can also submit a Request For A Clerk's Judgment in favor of the landlord. If all goes well, the landlord will still have to file an application for a Writ of Attachment, a Writ of Attachment, and Sheriff's Instructions, but the tenant will be evicted by the Sherriff unless the tenant quickly files a Motion For Relief from Default (also known as a Motion to Overturn a Default).
Tenants' Answer to an Eviction Summons and Complaint.
If the tenant responds to the initial Summons and Complaint within the 5/15 day period by filing a written Answer (.PDF) (along with any demands for discovery if necessary), or a motion to quash for improper service, or a demurrer, then either party may request a trial before a judge, or jury, and the court hearing must occur within 21 days of the demand. Upon the conclusion of the hearing, the court will render its verdict. If you would like Ms. Marsh to help you set your Case For Trial, the fee is $139.
How to respond to an UD Summons and Complaint.
If a tenant is served with an eviction - unlawful detainer summons and complaint, the tenant should get legal advice or assistance immediately as the tenant typically only has 5 days to respond. This advice can be acquired from an attorney for a fee, or from a legal aid organization if the tenant meets the low income requirements. One such legal aid organization is Bet Tzedek Legal Services.
To respond to the landlord's Summons and Complaint, the tenant must file a written Answer (.PDF). The form with the appropriate Court name and address already preprinted on the form can be obtained from the Clerk's Office at the court in which the original Summons and Complaint was filed. Instructions for completing an Answer to a Summons and Complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court can be viewed here. To file the answer, the tenant will be required to pay the required filing fee (about $225), or submit an Application For Waiver of Court Fees and Costs. To qualify for the fee waiver, the tenant will need to prove that s/he: (1) gross monthly household income is less than $1,128.13 per month if single ($1,517.71 per month if two people are in the household and $1,907.20 if three people are in the household) or (2) receives assistance from: SSI, SSP, Food Stamps, CalWorks/TANF, or general assistance. Typically a Medi-Cal Card, Food Stamp ID Card, or bank statement showing an SSI Deposit will suffice.
Caution. It is very important that the tenant read the Landlord's Complaint carefully and respond to each of the allegations in the Answer. The tenant's Answer must address if there is anything in the Complaint that is not true and it must also set forth ALL of the tenants defenses. A tenant cannot leave something out of the Answer and then expect to tell the judge something else, or a different story. For example, if the tenant disagrees with the amount of rent the landlord claims is owed, the tenant should say so, and explain why that amount is not owed. If the rental unit is infested with rodents or bugs, the tenant should say so and explain when she asked the landlord to fix the problem and what the landlord did. If the rental unit needs a lot of repairs, the tenant should say so and explain when she asked the landlord to make repairs, the response, whether the tenant reported the problem to the local housing department, whether the tenant used the repair and deduct method, and if the tenant believes the landlord is retaliating against him/her for complaining. Please note that if you are a tenant and you are living in substandard housing you should NOT withhold all of your rent unless directed to by a local housing authority, or you have already given your landlord 30 days written notice about a substantial non-cosmetic problem and you personally used the rent money (and can prove it) to have the repairs made yourself.
Caution. Once a tenant is served with a Summons and Complaint the tenant should NOT believe anything their landlord tells them. Even if you then pay the rent in full, the landlord can still evict you.
If you are a tenant and you would like Ms. Marsh to help you prepare an Answer to an Unlawful Detainer (eviction) filed against you, the fee is just $349. Call 818-849-5206 to schedule an appointment, or Send Us An Email.
Default Judgment - When a tenant Fails to Respond On Time.
If the tenant fails to file a timely response to the Summons and Complaint, the landlord can ask the court to enter a default judgment against the tenant by filing Form CIV100. If you would like Ms. Marsh to help you properly complete a Request For a Default, the fee is just $139. If the tenant has a valid reason for not responding in a timely manner (e.g. wasn't served, or was in the hospital, or otherwise incapacitated), the tenant can ask the court to set aside the default judgment. This must be done fairly quickly and the process can be quite complex. A Motion to Overturn a Default can range between $750 and $1500.
After the Court Hearing - Eviction Judgments and Writs.
If the court rules in favor of the tenant, the matter ends; the tenant can continue to reside in the rental unit and the court may award the tenant his or her costs and attorney's fees. That said, the case will still be public record unless the tenant can get the judge to seal the record / case.
If the court rules in favor of the landlord, the court will order the tenant out by issuing a judgment awarding the landlord possession of the rental unit, and if appropriate any unpaid rent, other monetary damages, court costs and attorneys fees (if the rental agreement has an attorneys fees clause). The judgment then allows the landlord to file an "application for a writ," "writ of possession," and Sheriff's Instructions. This can be quite a daunting task for most landlords and typically requires the assistance of an attorney. Once filed, the court clerk will then process the application and if properly prepared will thereafter send the order to the Sheriff or Marshall. If you need assistance is preparing the application for a Writ, the Writ, and Sheriffs Instructions, our fee is presently $299. Within 3 to 15 days (it used to be 1 to 3 days), the Sheriff will deliver a 5 day notice to the tenant demanding the occupants of the rental unit vacate or be evicted. Upon expiration of the 5 days, the Sheriff will physically remove the tenants and restore the landlord to possession. The Sheriff will not, however, move or accept responsibility for any of the tenant's personal belongings which may remain on the premises. If the tenant's belongings remain in the rental unit, the landlord will be required to store them for 15 days but the tenant will also be required to pay the landlord a reasonable fee for the storage. If the tenant does not retrieve his or her personal belongings within 15 days, the landlord can mail the evicted tenant a notice to pick them up, and if there is no response the landlord can either sell them at auction, or keep them (if their value is less than $300).
Unnamed Occupants Living in the Rental Unit.
Landlords must be careful when filing an unlawful detainer (eviction) to name all of the individuals who occupy the premises and again to file all of the appropriate paperwork. In some cases, there are individuals who are not named in the rental or lease agreement, but will later appear and say they too are living in the rental unit. When this happens and the proper paperwork has not be filed and properly served (by a sheriff or registered process server), the sheriff office will stop an eviction and allow the tenants to stay since the eviction is only valid against the named parties. To ensure the eviction process goes smoothly, the landlord can instruct a registered process server that is licensed to serve a summons and complaint to serve not only the named defendants but also "all unknown occupants." When so instructed the process server will not only serve the named defendants but an additional copy for the so-called "unnamed occupants" with a blank Prejudgment Claim of Right to Possession (.PDF).
If a Prejudgment Claim of Right to Possession was not prepared and filed with the original summons and complaint and worse if the summons and complaint was not served by a sheriff or registered process server, when the sheriff comes to evict, an unnamed occupant whose name does not appear on the writ of possession may stop the sheriff from evicting by claiming a right of possession. Within two business days after completing the Claim of Right to Possession form and giving it to the sheriff, the unnamed occupant must deliver to the Court Clerk and pay the court's filing fee (or submit a completed "Application for Waiver of Court Fees and Costs") and also pay an amount equal to 15 days' rent for the rental unit (the writ of possession must state the daily rental value of the rental unit). If the rent is not deposited with the court, the court will hold the hearing within 5 days. If the rent is deposited with the court, the court will hold the hearing between 5 and 15 days later.
At the hearing, the court will decide whether or not the previously unnamed occupant has a valid right to stay in the rental unit. If the court decides that the occupant does have a valid claim, the amount of rent deposited will be returned to the occupant. The court will then order further proceedings, as appropriate to the case. If the court finds that the occupant does NOT have a valid claim, the court will again award the landlord an amount equal to the daily rent for each day the eviction was delayed, the balance will be returned to the occupant, and the sheriff or marshal will again have to be instructed to continue with the eviction. See California Civil Code §§415.46 and 1174.3
A tenant who loses an unlawful detainer lawsuit may also appeal the court's ruling, but in the vast majority of cases the tenant will still have to move out before the appeal is heard. The one exception is where a tenant files a petition for stay of enforcement of the judgment, or a petition for relief from forfeiture, and the tenant is able to prove to the court that: (1) the tenant or the tenant's family will suffer extreme hardship; (2) the landlord will not suffer irreparable harm; and (3) the tenant can make his or her alleged back owed rent payments in full. If the court rules in favor of the tenant, the court will order the tenant to make his or her rent payments to the court.
Depending on what the landlord does and how the tenant responds, the whole process typically takes between one and three months. This is why landlord's are often advised to avoid the eviction process if at all possible.
Retaliatory and Discriminatory Evictions.
Landlords would be wise to avoid filing an Unlawful Detainer Complaint against a tenant merely because the tenant exercised a legal right (e.g. complained about a problem or used the repair and deduct method). Retaliation is a valid defense to an eviction and if a court finds, based on the tenant's answer and evidence, that the landlord's attempted eviction was retaliatory or discriminatory, the landlord may find himself the subject of a lawsuit for violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. See, California Civil Code §1942.5.
Fees vary, but a landlord should expect to pay about $1500 for a standard full service eviction (additional fees will be charged to respond to motions and discovery which occur in about 20% of the cases). If a paralegal or attorney is quoting less, do not expect a lot of service. The average eviction takes 6 weeks if an attorney is on top of it and it can take as long as 3 to 4 months if there are delays. Ms. Marsh also offers landlord's the ability to pay as you go if the landlord doesn't mind some leg work and is comfortable representing himself, or herself, in court. This will typically cut the legal expenses for an eviction in half, but is only recommended in standard failure to pay rent cases.
A tenant, on the other hand, should expect to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $750 to $2,500 to have an attorney handle an unlawful detainer defense. Tenants can significantly reduce the fee to $350 to $500, if they merely have the attorney prepare the necessary paperwork, and appear on their own behalf. If you just need some answers, or a little advice, tenants should expect to pay about $350 per hour.
Just need a few questions answered? We are currently offering a telephone consultation (up to 15 minutes) for just $85 (Advanced Payment by credit card is Required). To schedule a $85* telephone consultation, click here, and Ms. Marsh will contact you at the time you select.
If you are a landlord and would like Ms. Marsh to prepare a proper Residential 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit for $139, or a Residential Unlawful Detainer Complaint for $499, please call Ms. Marsh at 818-849-5206.
If you are a tenant and you would like Ms. Marsh to prepare an Answer to an Unlawful Detainer filed against you, the fee at present is just $349. Call 818-849-5206 to schedule an appointment, or Send Us An Email.
Lock-outs or Self-Help Measures Should Never Be Used.
If a landlord uses an unlawful method to force a tenant to move (e.g. changes the locks), the landlord may be subject to liability for the tenant's actual damages incurred as a result of the lockout, as well as penalties of up to $100 per day for the time that the landlord used the unlawful methods.
If you would like to ask us a question, or would like our assistance, please schedule a telephone consultation for just $85 or Send Us An Email. Be sure to include your full name, address, telephone number, and email address.
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