California Unlawful Detainer (Complaint)

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The California Unlawful Detainer complaint is served to the tenant along with the Unlawful Detainer Summons when the tenant has violated the lease agreement.

Document Last Modified: 4/18/2024

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The court-administered eviction process assures the tenant of the right to a court hearing if the tenant believes that the landlord has no right to evict the tenant.
The landlord must use this court process to evict the tenant; the landlord cannot use self-help measures to force the tenant to move. For example, the landlord cannot physically remove or lock out the tenant, cut off utilities such as water or electricity, remove outside windows or doors, or seize (take) the tenant's belongings in order to carry out the eviction.

In an unlawful detainer lawsuit, the court holds a hearing at which the parties can present their evidence and explain their case. If the court decides in favor of the landlord, the court will issue a writ of possession. The writ of possession orders the sheriff to remove the tenant from the rental unit, but gives the tenant 5 days from the date that the writ is served to leave voluntarily. If the tenant does not leave by the end of the fifth day, the writ of possession authorizes the sheriff to physically remove and lock the tenant out, and seize (take) the tenant's belongings that have been left in the rental unit. The landlord is not entitled to possession of the rental unit until after the sheriff has removed the tenant.

If the court finds that the tenant has a good defense, the court will not evict the tenant. If the court decides in favor of the tenant, the tenant will not have to move, and the landlord may be ordered to pay court costs (for example, the tenant's filing fees).

When in doubt, it is wise to consult with an attorney.

In order to continue with the eviction process after giving proper notice to the tenant; each state, county or local court requires official documents to be completed. In California, it’s known as the Unlawful Detainer (Complaint and Summons). Download, fill in, and print this document and take it to the appropriate court with any filing fees if applicable.

landlords really need to know

Who: This is served on a tenant after the notice period expires and the tenant remains non-compliant.

What: This is the official document used to initiate court proceedings.

When: File this with the appropriate county court, after your tenant has been served with proper notice, has not paid or corrected any violation after the notice period has expired.

Please Note: The Summons and Complaint are served on the tenant personally, by a disinterested third party, usually a licensed process server.

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