How to Evict a Lodger in California

by Fraser Sherman ; Updated July 27, 2017

California law won't let you evict your tenant overnight. First you have to give your tenant notice that his time is up. If he insists on staying, you'll have to go to court.

Giving Notice

The eviction clock doesn't start ticking until you've served notice on your tenant. You or your agent can hand-deliver the notice to your lodger. If you can't find her, you can serve a person of "suitable age and discretion" at her home, such as her spouse or a teenage son or daughter. The last resort is to mail one copy and post another at the rental unit.

The amount of time you have to give the renter to leave depends on the grounds for eviction.

Eviction With Cause

You can give your renter a three-day notice if you have a serious problem, for example:

•Nonpayment of rent

•Damaging the rental unit.

•Breaking the lease.

•Dealing drugs from the unit.

•Stalking or sexual assault of another tenant.

You have to give the reason for eviction in the notice. If the tenant fixes the problem — paying the rent, for instance — the eviction is a no-go. In the worst-case scenarios, such as sexual assault, there's no way the tenant can fix things to prevent eviction.

Without a Cause

If your tenant doesn't have a lease, you can evict her without cause by telling her you won't renew her tenancy. California law says you have to give her 30 or 60 days notice60 days if everyone in the rental has lived there at least a year — that you want her out. At the end of that time, she has to leave. Otherwise the agreement automatically renews at the end of the month, or week, or whatever period it's keyed to.

A lease, by contrast, terminates automatically when the due date rolls around unless you agree to a new lease. You don't have to give the tenant notice, unless that requirement is in the lease. If you don't renew the lease but do accept a rent payment from the tenant, the lease becomes a month-to-month rental agreement, subject to the usual notice requirements.

There are exceptions to your right to evict without cause. For example, if your property is rent-controlled, you may only be able to evict for "just cause" such as failure to pay rent.

Warnings

  • It is always illegal to evict a tenant for discrimination. Under California law, giving notice to a tenant because she's black, Jewish, Muslim or gay, among other reasons, would be illegal. It's also illegal to evict a tenant for exercising her legal rights. For example, retaliating against a tenant because she reported a code enforcement problem violates California law.

Unlawful Detainer

Unlawful detainer is the legal term for an eviction lawsuit. You file the case with your local court, then notify the tenant of the lawsuit. He must respond to the notice within five days or the judge will find in your favor. If he does respond, the court hearing typically comes within 20 days.

If the court sides with the tenant, that stops the eviction. If the court finds for you, the judge will issue you a writ of possession. When you present this to the county sheriff, he'll handle the eviction for you.

Warnings

  • Using harassment tactics to move your tenant out faster is illegal. Those include changing the locks, shutting off utilities, making harassing phone calls, removing the front door, or dumping the tenant's property on the street.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.