How to Evict Tenants Without a Contract & California Laws

By Teo Spengler - Updated July 23, 2018
...

California Beach image by Kevin Lamping from Fotolia.com

If you ask ordinary Californians to choose between a tax audit and an eviction, they may well pick the audit as the lesser evil. Both landlords and tenants dislike evictions. Despite the streamlined California eviction process, eviction is still far from easy for either party. To complicate matters, the state laws are not the final word, since many municipalities have their own laws and procedures set out in rent control ordinances.

California Eviction Process

An eviction in California is a landlord's attempt to remove a tenant from a premises. Most evictions are residential, involving apartments and homes owned by landlords and rented as dwellings by tenants. If a tenant and a landlord have signed a rental agreement or a lease, the terms of that document can impact the California eviction process. If the terms in the contract don't violate state or local laws, they generally will prevail.

But what happens when landlords and tenants do not sign a rental lease or contract? This happens more than you might think. Perhaps the landlord is looking for a tenant, and someone pays rent and moves in. Alternatively, this can happen when the parties sign a lease for a year, but after a year the tenant stays on, and the landlord keeps accepting rent. The rights of tenants without leases are determined by California law, including the ways to evict a tenant without a lease in California.

Note that many cities in California have rent control laws. These laws expand the rights of a tenant and alter the eviction proceedings.

California Eviction Laws if No Lease

Unless your situation is covered by a local law or rent control ordinance, a landlord can evict a periodic tenant without cause in California. If the landlord wants to rent the place to a different person – a friend perhaps, or just someone who offers to pay more – California law allows for an eviction. But more often, landlords seek evictions when a tenant either fails to pay rent as promised, is habitually late with the rent or creates noise or nuisance problems for other tenants or neighbors.

In the absence of a lease or rental contract, California law treats someone renting as a periodic tenant. That means that the tenant pays rent at the beginning of a month for the right to occupy the premises for that month. If the landlord wishes the tenant to move out, she must give the tenant appropriate notice. The amount of notice depends on the reasons for the eviction and other factors.

If the landlord gives appropriate notice but the tenant doesn't move out, the landlord must file an unlawful detainer action against the tenant and ask for a court order permitting a sheriff to evict the tenant. Self-help in evictions is illegal, so a landlord should never lock the tenant out or dump out his belongings without a court order.

How to Evict a Tenant Without a Lease in California

A landlord evicting a tenant for failure to pay rent must serve the tenant with a three-day written notice. If it is for failure to pay the rent, the notice must state that if the tenant fails to pay overdue rent within three days, the eviction process will begin. The landlord must give the name and address of the person to whom rent must be paid as well as the total rent due. The notice must be "served" on the tenant by handing it to her personally. If that isn't possible, the law allows for several other options for service.

A landlord can also use the three-day notice when evicting a tenant because of illegal or other nuisance activities. If the problem is not something that can be corrected, the notice simply tells the tenant to leave the unit within three days. If it can be corrected, the tenant has three days to do so.

If the eviction is not based on improper conduct or failure to pay rent, a landlord must give the tenant a 30-day notice to move out. That time bumps up to 60 days if the tenant has lived in the dwelling for more than one year and to 90 days in government-subsidized housing.

Unlawful Detainer Action

If the landlord properly serves the notice and the time expires without action on the tenant's part, the landlord must go to court to continue the matter. He must fill out and file a complaint for unlawful detainer and related documents (like a prejudgment right of possession form) in the county court where the property is located.

The court clerk provides stamped copies which must be personally handed to the tenant, who will have a period of time to respond, usually five business days. If the tenant responds, the landlord must prove his case to the court. If not, the landlord can seek a default judgment.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article