Unlawful Detainer


The Eviction Process

When and How

Eviction is the means by which a landlord can legally get you to move out. The official name of the lawsuit is “unlawful detainer.” [“UD”] Except for one based upon expiration of a lease [e.g., a year] or of employment [e.g., resident manager], the UD must begin with a notice. Depending on the basis of the eviction, it is a 3-, 30-, 60- or 90-day notice. After that notice expires, the landlord can file the lawsuit. If based upon expiration of the lease or employment, the case can be filed immediately.

The landlord must go through court to evict. He cannot remove property, turn off utilities, remove doors, change locks, physically remove you, or have you arrested or removed by the police. The landlord cannot have your car towed away, ruin your credit, or threaten you. The police will side with you in the event of a confrontation. You can make a citizen’s arrest for disturbing the peace, and more. Eviction is an orderly process, and the landlord is severely liable for attempting to do a “self-help” eviction. Normally, those kinds of things are rare, but in the COVID eviction context, it is likely that frustrated landlords will take desperate measures, and they are.

Removal without a formal UD can occur in a few instances, where the police do the removal. The landlord renting a room to only one tenant in his own home can use a 30-day notice and have the police remove the tenant. However, if there is more than one tenant in the house, the UD process must be used. Occupancy in school dormitories, hospitals, halfway houses, military housing, and the like are exempt from the eviction process. Occupancy of 30 days or less in a hotel, motel, or AirBnB type of situation is exempt from the UD process; on the 31st day, the whole situation changes and a formal UD is required. Such places are prohibited from requiring the occupant to vacate and then re-register in an attempt to restart the 30 days.


Unleash the Kraken

Ironically, the landlord’s eviction notice and UD are the point where you take control. When the eviction notice is given, all restraints on you vanish. You may not have wanted to “rock the boat” before, but now you have nothing to lose. The game is on. For the landlord, you “unleash the Kraken”:

  • You can call the building inspectors, health department inspectors and fire inspectors to cite the landlord regarding problems the landlord would not correct. Fines and expensive work follow.
  • The offsite manager may be unlicensed [i.e., not a broker], whom the Department of Real Estate will put out of business with a cease and desist letter and criminal prosecution.
  • The resident manager may be told about Order 5-2001, which requires a free apartment plus minimum wage for all hours worked, which the California Labor Standards Enforcement office will prosecute against the landlord. Pit them against each other. Divide and conquer.
  • For rent/eviction controlled properties, you file complaints with the rent board or city attorney.
  • The landlord accepting cash only for rent may be hiding rental income from the IRS.
  • The building may have been illegally built; the landlord will be fined and have to demolish it.
  • The landlord may have lied to the lending bank, saying that they will live in the house in order to get a lower interest rate. That is bank fraud that the bank will appreciate knowing about, and even may use to foreclose on the landlord.
  • The landlord may have made false claims to his insurance company, even requiring you to lie under threat of eviction, which you can now disclose to that insurance company as fraud.
  • You can file small claims cases against the landlord, each of you suing separately for the $10,000 maximum.
  • For the landlord trying to sell the property, you can pull out the For Sale signs, to prohibit any showing, and warn the brokers and buyers that you will join them in your lawsuit against the landlord, and record a Notice of Intent to Preserve Interest, all of which effectively stop the sale.
  • You can organize the tenants in the building, to advise them of their rights, take collective action, and file their complaints with these agencies, as you are.
  • You can find the person responsible for all of this, distribute a map of how to get to his house [and other information] to all of the other tenants frustrated with management, who need to talk directly to him, and/or sue him.
  • For any criminal conduct committed by the landlord or manager, you make a report and press charges. Get your neighbors to do the same and witness for each other, such as managers snooping around in your apartment while you are away at work, and you discover something missing.
  • Once the notice expires, anything the rental agreement had prohibited no longer applies to you: paying rent, having pets, subleasing, extended guests, changing your locks, painting, making modifications, letting the landlord enter, use of utilities, use of common areas, complying with HOA rules, etc. Why? Because the landlord tore up the lease! There is no longer any agreement to “break” at all. You are free, for as long as the eviction case lasts, and perhaps beyond.

Important: Don’t threaten to do these things. That could be considered extortion. Just do them. Don’t hold back. They’re not holding back on you. They are hurting you as much as they can.

They want a fight? They got one, but the landlord has only one bullet: to evict you. Once they start that process, the bullet is used. You dodge it, in a long, drawn out eviction case, while generating problems. Many landlords have rued the day they picked on the wrong tenant. Glass house, throwing stones. That’s just your initial reaction to the eviction notice, a taste of things to come.

You can also respond to the eviction notice before it expires with a letter that tells the landlord and lawyer what the basics of your defense are. You tell them that this is to “put you on notice with a duty of inquiry, for malicious prosecution purposes.” This is your “don’t even think about it” response, which raises the stakes, especially for the lawyer. This means, after you win the UD, you will be suing them both for having tried to evict you, at great cost to them. End with “Proceed at your peril.” Label your letter “Exhibit 1” just to rub in the point.