Unlawful Detainer California Tenant Rights

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California landlords can pay fines for illegally changing their tenants' locks.
California landlords can pay fines for illegally changing their tenants' locks. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

As a tenant in California, the landlord must give written notice before filing an eviction, also known as an unlawful detainer, lawsuit against you. If you are a “holdover” tenant -- you neither moved nor renewed the lease after it expired -- the landlord can file a lawsuit against you immediately to reclaim his property.

Breach of Lease

Your landlord can terminate your tenancy after providing you with a three-day written notice if you breached your lease agreement. If you have not paid rent, damaged property or committed an illegal act on her property, your landlord can give you three days to cure your breach. The notice must contain the amount of rent due or the reason for termination. If you pay your rent within three days or cure your violation, then your landlord cannot legally evict you. However, your landlord can give you three days to move without giving you an opportunity to remedy your violation if you committed an illegal act that cannot be reversed.

Unlawful Detainer Lawsuits

California law allows landlords the right to summarily evict their tenants by filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit against them. If your landlord files an unlawful detainer motion against you, you must receive personal notice of the pending action. Your landlord must personally serve you with the summons and complaint before he can legally evict you. Personal service is through a process server or sheriff.

Time to Answer

Most California courts will provide tenants with five days to file a written answer to their landlords' unlawful detainer lawsuit. The court will set a hearing date within 20 days of filing, and you must file an answer or appear in court to contest the eviction. If your landlord prevails in court or you do not answer within the legal time-frame, the court issues a writ of possession to the landlord and local sheriff's office. The writ of possession gives you five days to move, and if you do not move after five days, a sheriff can force removal by taking your property.

Defenses

You can defend an unlawful detainer motion by claiming your landlord did not accept your rent if you tried to pay him the full sum due. You can also defend on the basis of the landlord breaching his duty of habitability to provide you with necessary repairs and a clean and livable rental. If your landlord retaliated against you for exercising your legal rights to complain against him to county inspectors for breaching his implied duty of habitability, then his unlawful detainer motions was illegal. Additionally, you can defend your case on the ground that his eviction was discriminatory. You may also file a "motion to quash service" if your landlord did not properly serve you with the summons and complaint. If your landlord illegally tried to evict you by shutting off utility services, removing your property or attempted to lock you out, you can file for damages against your landlord. Courts can hold landlords liable for damages and assess penalties of up to $100 for each day they engaged in their illegal methods of trying to evict their tenants.

Considerations

Since state laws can frequently change, do not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.

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