Termination of Tenancy in California: Types of Eviction Notices

Notice of eviction
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The beginning of a tenancy is a time of hope; the ending is not always as cheerful. If the tenant's life changes and he moves out voluntarily, there is usually no problem. But when the tenancy is terminated by the landlord, it is another story. A California eviction always begins with written notice from the landlord announcing her intention to end the tenancy. Under the law, the form used for termination of tenancy depends on the reasons for it. Both landlords and tenants need to understand the different types of notices required since only the correct form used correctly can be the basis for an eviction in California.

Termination of Tenancy in California

A residential tenancy begins when a landlord agrees to rent out a dwelling unit. The person to occupy it is called the tenant, and the occupancy itself is called the tenancy. Most tenancies in California are not for a set term, but are periodic tenancies, most often month-to-month. That means that the tenant pays rent at the beginning of the month which gives him the right to stay in the unit for that month.

Either party can end a month-to-month tenancy in California with written notice. This is fairly straightforward for the tenant, who must simply give notice of termination to the landlord thirty days before he wants to move out. Ending a tenancy is more complex for a landlord since different forms may be required based on the circumstances of the termination.

Eviction Vs. Termination of Tenancy

Many people think of the terms eviction and termination of tenancy as synonyms, but that is not true. However, they are closely related, and both are on the spectrum of actions required before a landlord can force a tenant to leave a rented unit. Notice of the termination of tenancy is the first step.

A termination of tenancy must be in writing to be valid. The form and format vary, in California, depending on the circumstances of the termination. Some notices are as short as three days, while some are 30 or even 60 days, and some are conditional. But none constitute an eviction, which is a mandated ouster ordered by the court.

Unlawful Detainer Eviction Process

If the tenant gets a notice of termination of tenancy and moves out in response, he has not been evicted. But if he does not move out, and the landlord files a court action called an unlawful detainer, that process can result in an eviction. Of course, the tenant can contest the case and present his arguments in court, but if the landlord wins, she can have the sheriff come and remove the tenant from the unit.

Grounds for Eviction in California

The type of notice required for a termination of tenancy in California depends on the circumstances of the case. If the state's new "just cause eviction law" or local rent control laws apply to the unit, the landlord's reason for seeking the end of the tenancy is relevant. On the other hand, if these just cause laws do not apply, the landlord is not obligated to follow the same guidelines.

If California's Tenant Protection Act of 2019 or a local rent control ordinance apples to a specific rental unit, a landlord seeking to terminate a tenancy must include the reason for the termination in the notice. And the reason must be listed as a just cause under the applicable law.

Just cause evictions include terminations of tenancy for at-fault causes and no-fault causes. At-fault causes are those where the tenant's actions or behavior violate the rental agreement or criminal statutes. These range from failure to pay rent to using the unit for criminal activity. No-fault causes are based on landlord decisions, like when a relative wishes to occupy the unit, or on government action like a demolition order.

30- or 60-Day Notice to Terminate

Many units in California are covered by either the just cause provisions of California’s Tenant Protection Act of 2019 or by a local rent control ordinance with similar or greater protections. A few are not covered by either. For example, state law does not apply to a tenancy of less than a year or to a rented duplex when the other half is occupied by the owners. Landlords and tenants should ascertain the status of a particular unit in case of doubt.

For rentals that are not covered by just cause provisions, the prior law applies. That means that a landlord can end a tenancy for any reason other than those forbidden by law, like illegal discrimination or retaliation. A landlord in this situation need not state the cause for the eviction. She need only use a 30-day notice for tenancies under one year or a 60-day notice for tenancies a year or more. The notice must include the name of the tenant, the address and the termination date.

90-Day Notice to Vacate

Under prior state law, a landlord renting out subsidized housing, such as Section 8 housing, must give the tenant 90 days to vacate, and the termination must be for just cause. It is not clear yet whether this is required under the Tenant Protection Act of 2019.

3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit

If a tenant is behind in his rent, the landlord must give him a short window of time to pay up by using a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. Like all California notices to terminate a tenancy, it must be in writing, set out the name of the tenant or tenants and the property address. It must also state exactly the amount of rent that is overdue and the dates when the rent in question should have been paid.

The notice must tell the tenant that he has to pay the overdue rent within three business days after receiving the notice. Weekends and court holidays do not count. It must also specify where and when the tenant can pay the rent and, if he can mail it, the mailing address. If the tenant pays within the time period, the tenancy continues; if he does not, the landlord can file an unlawful detainer action.

3-Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit

If the tenant has violated the terms of his rental contract in a way that he can cure, such as keeping a pet in a pet-free unit, other than failure to pay rent, the landlord must begin the tenancy termination with a 3-Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit. This is like the 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, but directs the tenant to correct the violation within three days or move out.

The specifics of the notice are similar to the rent notice, including the tenant's name, the address of the property and the three-day period to cure or quit. It must also describe what the tenant did to violate the contract.

3-Day Notice to Quit

When a violation of the rental contract is not readily curable, the landlord can issue an unconditional 3-Day Notice to Quit. This is the type of notice used for at-fault evictions that result from ongoing issues with the tenant's behavior. It can include the tenant creating a nuisance on the property, using the premises for drug sales or other illegal activities, damaging the property significantly or participating in other activities that threaten the health and safety of other tenants or the general public.

This notice looks like a curable 3-day notice, but includes no conditions. The landlord must set out what the tenant did to violate the rental contract, including dates and specifics of the breach. It must make clear that the tenant is required to move out within the three-day period.