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What to do if served an Unlawful Detainer in California | 714-442-9741

What to do if served an
Unlawful Detainer in California?

What to do if served an
Unlawful Detainer in California?
Your Rights and Steps in California

Discover the crucial steps to take if served with an unlawful detainee in California. This comprehensive guide outlines your rights and actions to protect yourself effectively.

What to do if served an Unlawful Detainer in California

What to do if served an unlawful detainer in California? Your Action Plan When Served

How long does an unlawful detainer stay on your record in California?

If you are served with an unlawful detainer in California, you should:

👉  Get a lawyer
👉  Contact a local legal aid organization.  Respond quickly.  File a written answer with the court.  Send your answer to the landlord or landlord’s attorney

The amount of time you have to respond depends on how the notice was served.

👉  Physically served: 5 days
👉  Sent or posted on the property: 15 days

You can fill out an answer or other response form. You can use these forms to tell the judge if there are any legal reasons why your landlord can’t evict you. 

You will need to pay a fee of $240–$450 to the clerk when you file your forms. If you can’t afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver. 

An eviction record can stay on your record for up to seven years. The best way to avoid this is to leave voluntarily or negotiate with your landlord.

What to Do If Served an Unlawful Detainer in California?

Being served an eviction notice can be a stressful and frightening experience. As a tenant in California, it’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities when facing an unlawful detainer complaint. This guide will walk you through the key steps to take if you receive an eviction notice in California.

A Brief Summary

  • Act quickly to respond within the required timeframe, usually 5 court days. File a written answer to avoid defaulting.
  • Seek legal help immediately from an attorney or legal aid organization, if possible. The eviction process is complex.
  • Consider negotiation or defenses like breach of warranty of habitability, if applicable.
  • Request a jury trial if desired. Know your tenant’s rights and protections under CA law.
  • Attend the court hearing and present evidence on your behalf. Bring documents, photos, and witnesses.
  • Be aware that an eviction could stay on your record. Avoid this if possible by voluntary compliance.
  • Use self-help resources from the court’s website if unable to afford an attorney. Know key deadlines.

Being served with an eviction lawsuit is serious, but understanding the basic steps to take can help you exercise your rights as a tenant in California and navigate the process as smoothly as possible. Keep reading to learn more.


What to do if served an Unlawful Detainer in California

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Navigating an Unlawful Detainer in California: Your Action Plan When Served

The first step in the California eviction process is for the landlord to serve you an appropriate notice. The most common notices are:

30 Day Notice to Vacate or Quit

This simply gives you 30 days to move out without needing to provide a reason. It cannot be used if you have lived there for over a year, in which case 60 days are required.

3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit

If you are behind on rent, the landlord can serve this notice, giving you 3 court days to pay in full or move out.

Unlawful Detainer

If you do not comply with the initial notice, the landlord can then serve you a summons and file a complaint for unlawful detainer. This means they are suing to evict you.

Eviction Notice

This is the general term for any notice that the landlord gives you to start the eviction process. It could be a 3-day or 30-day notice.

Serve the Notice

The landlord must properly serve you the notice, either in person or by registered mail. The date you are served begins the countdown to respond.

What is an Unlawful Detainer Notice?

An unlawful detainer notice is the second notice, served after a 3-day or 30-day notice expires without compliance, informing the tenant they are being sued for eviction.

How to Respond to an Eviction Notice

You must respond in writing within 5 court days of receiving the unlawful detainer complaint by “filing an answer.” An attorney can help craft your response.

Counting Days for the Notice Period

Do not count the day you received service, weekends, or court holidays when calculating the notice period you have to comply.

The beginning of the eviction process involves receiving proper notice from the landlord and understanding how much time you have to respond to or rectify the issue. This is the key to exercising your legal rights. Consult a lawyer immediately if you are served any kind of eviction notice to understand your options.

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Served an Unlawful Detainer in California?

There are generally three key parties involved in a California unlawful detainer case:


This is the owner of the property who is trying to evict you, likely due to rent non-payment or a lease violation. They must follow proper procedures.


As the renter or leaseholder occupying the property, you have certain rights and defenses against eviction under California law that you can assert.


If the landlord sues for unlawful detainer, the case will go before a judge at the county superior court. The court oversees the legal process.

The Landlord’s Rights and Responsibilities

While a landlord can evict for breaches, they must provide proper notices, file suit properly, collect and show evidence, and follow all legal procedures.

The Tenant’s Rights and Defenses

Tenants have rights like requesting repairs, withholding rent if the unit is uninhabitable, and contesting improper notices or procedures.

The Court’s Role in Evictions

The court impartially oversees eviction cases, ensuring rules and procedures are followed. The judge or jury ultimately issues a binding decision.

Understanding each party’s legal rights and responsibilities is key to navigating an eviction suit. Consult a landlord-tenant attorney to understand your rights as a tenant facing eviction.

What to do if served an Unlawful Detainer in California

Legal Actions and Defenses

There are important legal actions you can take as a tenant to exercise your rights and defend against eviction:

File a Written Response

You must file a formal answer with the court within 5 days of receiving the unlawful detainer complaint, denying allegations, and raising defenses.

Request a Jury Trial

In California, you have the option of having a jury trial rather than a bench trial with only the judge hearing the case. There are associated costs.

Claim of Right to Possession

You can argue that you lawfully became a tenant or rightful occupant, and the landlord has no right to evict you.

Fee Waiver

If you can’t afford court fees, file a fee waiver application to ask the court to waive or reduce fees.

How to File an Answer to an Eviction Complaint

Filling out Form UD-105 fully with your defenses is crucial. An attorney can assist you to ensure you preserve all rights.

Requesting a Jury Trial in an Unlawful Detainer Case

This requires depositing jury fees, unless waived. It’s complex, so consult a lawyer on whether to request it.

Using the Claim of Right Defense Against Eviction

If you took possession properly, originally per an oral or written agreement, argue that the landlord has no right to evict you.

Properly exercising legal defenses, filing responses, and knowing when to request a jury trial are key for tenants facing eviction. Consider all options under the guidance of an attorney.

Timelines and Deadlines

Adhering to strict deadlines is crucial when served with an unlawful detainer complaint:

5 Court Days to Respond

You typically have just five court days to file a written response after receiving the summons and complaint.

Counting Days for Notice

Do not count weekends, holidays, or the day you received service when calculating notice periods and deadlines.

Notice Expiration

Once a notice period expires, if you have not complied, the landlord can proceed to the next step, like filing an eviction lawsuit.

Calculating Response Time After Receiving Notice

Carefully count 5 court days from the date of service to determine your deadline for filing an answer. Don’t delay.

What Happens When the Notice Expires?

If a 3-day rent notice expires, the landlord can immediately file an eviction lawsuit. Take action quickly.

Extending Notice Deadlines

Ask the landlord in writing for an extension. Otherwise, comply or respond on time. Late responses forfeit their rights.

Missing key unlawful detainer deadlines can result in default judgment against you. Consult an attorney to understand critical filing dates and defend your rights.

Court Proceedings

If an unlawful detainer suit is filed, be prepared for legal proceedings:

Answer the Complaint

Filing a written answer admitting or denying allegations is required within 5 days to avoid losing by default.

Attend the Hearing

You must show up at court for the unlawful detainee trial. Failure to appear can forfeit your rights.

Present Your Case

Bring evidence and be prepared to argue your side. Photos, documents, witnesses, and testimony help.


What to do if served an Unlawful Detainer in California

Court’s Decision

The judge or jury will decide the case based on the arguments and evidence presented. Their judgment will be final.

What to Include in Your Written Response

An attorney can help craft your answer, including defenses like breach of warranty of habitability, demands for repairs, or improper service.

Preparing For and Attending the Court Hearing

Have all documents, evidence, and witnesses ready. Dress appropriately and arrive early. Ask for an interpreter if needed.

Presenting Your Side of the Story

Bring photos, records, testimony, and applicable laws to help argue your case or prove defenses against wrongful eviction.

Understanding the Court’s Judgment

The court will rule in favor of you or the landlord. Be prepared to vacate within 5 days if ruled against, barring a successful appeal.

Facing an eviction hearing can be intimidating. Having legal guidance and presenting a compelling case with supporting evidence is key. Know your rights.

Consequences: Here’s Your Step-by-Step Guide

If you ultimately lose an unlawful detainer case, be aware of the potential consequences:

Eviction Record

Having an eviction case filed against you, even if you win, can show up on background checks for 7 years and affect rental applications.

Judgment Against You

If the court rules in the landlord’s favor, you will owe any rent due, court costs, and legal fees per the judgment.

Writ of Possession

This court order handed to the sheriff authorizes removing you if you don’t vacate within 5 days of losing in court.

How Long an Eviction Stays on Your Record

Details of an unlawful detainer case can negatively impact rental, loan, and job applications for years after filing.

Dealing With a Judgment For the Landlord

If you lose, try negotiating a settlement on what you’ll owe. Get legal advice on payment plans, bankruptcy, or appealing.

What Happens After the Writ of Possession?

Once issued, the sheriff will forcibly evict you if you don’t vacate promptly after losing in court. This can mean having possessions removed from the home.

Get legal advice to avoid an eviction judgment or writ of possession. Following agreements set in court right away is wise if ruled against. An eviction can have lasting impacts.

Responding to an Unlawful Detainer in California: Your Essential Checklist

If facing eviction, consider resources like:

Consult an Attorney

Get advice from a landlord-tenant lawyer on your rights, defenses, and navigating the eviction lawsuit process. This is highly recommended if possible.

Legal Aid Organizations

If you cannot afford a lawyer, seek assistance from legal aid groups, tenant unions, housing clinics, and pro bono attorneys.

Self-Help Resources

Your county Superior Court website offers DIY help for responding to unlawful detainer suits and representing yourself without a lawyer.

Should you Hire a Lawyer?

Having an attorney greatly improves your odds against eviction. If financially feasible, legal representation is worth the investment.

Finding Free or Low-Cost Legal Assistance

Explore law school clinics, nonprofits, and volunteer lawyer programs if unable to pay. The state bar or court clerk can offer referrals.

Using Court Self-Help Centers

These provide workshops, basic consultations, and resources for those representing themselves, but not actual legal advice or document preparation.

Fighting an eviction notice without proper legal help can be an uphill battle. Consult a landlord-tenant attorney or utilize referrals for pro bono assistance if low income. Know your options. Don’t go it alone.

Being served with an unlawful detainer suit can be scary. Arm yourself with knowledge of the eviction process, tenant rights laws, and legal defense options. Work quickly to respond in writing by key deadlines. Present compelling evidence at trial if it goes to court. Whenever possible, hire an experienced lawyer for guidance. Take action to exercise your rights. With the right approach, you may be able to avoid an eviction judgment and keep your housing. Stay strong, know you are not alone, and realize that many options exist when facing the eviction process in California.

Figure out the deadline to file your Answer or other response

Responding on time to an eviction lawsuit is absolutely crucial. Here are tips for making sure you do not miss key unlawful detainer filing deadlines:

  • Carefully examine the summons. This document you receive along with the complaint provides critical information on when you must respond in writing and what happens if you don’t. Note the specific date listed.
  • Count calendar days properly. Do not include the day you were served, weekends, or court holidays when calculating your deadline. Improperly counting days is a common mistake.
  • Target responding at least 2 days early. Do not wait until the last possible day. File your Answer or other response to the complaint a couple days before the deadline for a buffer.
  • Double check with the court directly. You can contact the court clerk to confirm the precise response due date for your unique case and timeline of when you were served.
  • Request an extension if needed. If there are serious extenuating circumstances, you can file an Ex Parte Motion asking the judge for a few extra days. But don’t count on approval.
  • Remember the stakes. If you miss the deadline, the landlord will win by default. You need your response filed to avoid immediate eviction. So calendar key dates, request fee waivers early on, and handle this urgent priority.

Missing the short filing deadline to respond is the most common way tenants lose eviction cases. Avoid technical default. Carefully determine when your written Answer is due, and file several days early. Protect your rights. Do not let a missed unlawful detainer deadline derail your defense entirely.

  • Avoid default judgment against you due to an inadvertent late filing.
  • Calendar and prioritize key dates as soon as you are served.
  • Leverage court clerks or online research to confirm deadlines.
  • Request extensions only as a last resort with serious need.
  • An experienced attorney can ensure papers are filed properly and on time.

Determining your exact response deadline requires looking at rules for service, counting calendar days accurately, and double checking cutoff dates. But it can make all the difference in being able to present your side of the story instead of losing automatically. So know the precise date you need to get your response filed, and be sure to handle this essential task on time. Do not let a paperwork technicality become your downfall.

Overview of the Court Eviction Steps

If the tenant contests the eviction, you must complete the court process to regain the property. Major steps are:

  • File and serve Summons and Complaint starting lawsuit
  • Tenant files Answer within 5 days or you get default judgment
  • Court holds trial within 20 days if contested
  • Judge rules if you proved grounds for tenant’s removal
  • Obtain Writ of Possession if you win at trial
  • Schedule sheriff to supervise tenant vacating property
  • Legally remove tenant if they do not move out by deadline

Hiring an eviction attorney can help you navigate the complex legal system. But document everything thoroughly yourself.

Preparing Documentation to Prove Grounds for Eviction

To win at trial, you need compelling evidence justifying the tenant’s removal. Helpful documentation can include:

  • Rent payment ledger showing nonpayment
  • Letters to tenant regarding lease violations
  • Photographs of property damage
  • Police reports of disturbance incidents
  • Written statements from neighbors about problems
  • Any other records or proof related to eviction grounds

Bring at least three copies of evidence to trial – one for you, one for the judge, and one for the tenant.

Serving the Unlawful Detainer Papers on a Tenant

A critical step in the California eviction process is formally serving tenants with the unlawful detainer summons and complaint. Follow proper service procedures or risk the eviction getting overturned later for a procedural defect.

Who Can Serve Eviction Papers on a Tenant?

You as the landlord cannot serve the papers yourself—it must be a third party not involved in the case. Options include:

  • The county sheriff’s department civil division
  • A registered professional process server
  • An adult friend or family member not living with you
  • A constable or marshal authorized to do service

Many landlords hire a professional process server to ensure service is done properly.

How to Serve Eviction Papers on Tenants

Ideally, the server hands the unlawful detainer papers directly to the tenant or other adult living at the property. If the tenant is not home, papers can be:

  • Left with another adult member at the residence, followed by mailing a copy to the tenant.
  • Posted on the property entry and mailed if unable to find any adults at home.
  • Tenants served using these “substitute service” techniques have 15 days rather than 5 to respond.

Get the server’s signed Proof of Service form showing compliance with the rules. Submit this to the court when filing the eviction case.

What Comes After Serving the Tenant Eviction Papers

Once served, the tenant has limited time to respond appropriately to the summons and complaint:

  • Tenant can file an Answer within 5-15 days contesting the eviction and forcing a court trial.
  • Tenant can voluntarily vacate by the deadline avoiding involvement of the courts.
  • If no response, you can seek a default judgment to take possession without a trial.

You still cannot remove the tenant or their belongings until legally authorized by a court judgment. Patience is key during this procedural phase.

Fighting an Eviction Case: Tenant Defenses that Can Lead to Dismissal

Tenants facing eviction have legal defenses that could get the unlawful detainer case thrown out if properly presented. Here are tenant defenses landlords should be aware of that could risk dismissal:

Improper Notice to the Tenant

Tenants often succeed in dismissals by showing:

  • The notice did not provide proper timelines
  • It lacked statutorily required content
  • It had incorrect facts, like amount owed
  • It was not served to tenant appropriately

Any material defect in the notice can invalidate subsequent eviction proceedings.