What You Need to Know About How to File and Serve an Unlawful Detainer in California
As a landlord in California, you may wonder what rights the law provides you to protect your property. Here’s everything you need to know about how to file and serve an unlawful detainer in California.
An unlawful detainer in California allows a landlord to evict a tenant legally. To file and serve an unlawful detainer in California, landlords must begin with a Notice of Termination.
What is an Unlawful Detainer in California?
In California, landlords can use an unlawful detainer to remove a tenant from their property.
An unlawful detainer begins with a Notice of Termination, which informs the tenant of the reason for their eviction. A Notice of Termination may also ask a tenant to fix the issue leading to their eviction.
If a tenant does not fix the issue in the Notice of Termination, a landlord can file a Summons and Complaint with a court and have someone serve it to the tenant.
After receiving a Summons and Complaint, a tenant has five business days to answer. If they do not answer in time, a landlord can obtain a Default Judgment from the court.
If a tenant responds to a Summons and Complaint in time, they will sit with the landlord for a Mandatory Settlement Conference to discuss and resolve their issues outside of court.
If the landlord and tenant cannot come to a conclusion at their conference, the case will go to trial.
Related: Writ of Possession in California
Filing an Unlawful Detainer in California
To begin filing an unlawful detainer in California, the Notice of Termination deadline must end. This tool can help a landlord calculate their Notice’s deadline.
Next, a landlord should gather:
- A copy of their rental/lease agreement
- A copy of the Notice their tenant received
- Written proof the tenant received the Notice
Next, a landlord must fill out a:
- Plaintiff’s Mandatory Cover Sheet and Supplemental Allegations
- Civil Case Cover Sheet
The address of the superior court where the tenant lives will go on the forms.
The fee for filing these forms ranges from $240-$450. Individuals can apply to waive the fee with this waiver.
Your local court clerk’s office will outline any additional forms you have to file.
Serving an Unlawful Detainer in California
In California, a landlord cannot serve their own claim. Instead, an individual over 18, the county sheriff, or a licensed process server must serve the claim to the tenant. For a prejudgment claim of right of possession, you may only use a registered process server or the sheriff.
If you choose to use a process server, you can serve the forms through personal service, substitute service, or postal mail.
Personal service is when the process server gives each defendant a copy of the summons and complaint in person. The defendant cannot avoid personal service by not taking the summons and complaint.
The substitute service works when the personal service is unsuccessful. In this case, the server gives a copy of the Summons and Complaint to an adult in the defendant’s life. The server also mails a copy to the defendants. The substitute service will only come into play if the process server fails multiple attempts at personal service. The server completes a Declaration stating the sincerity with which they performed their actions for personal service. Substitute service is complete ten days after the process server mails the forms.
Related: How to File a Writ of Mandate
If the process server fails to serve the Summons and Complaint through a substitute, the court can allow them to use postal mail. In this case, a landlord would have to use the form Application and Order to Service Summons by Posting (L-690) alongside a Declaration (MC-031) stating the number of attempts made.
For a step-by-step walkthrough of the unlawful detainer process in California, click here.