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How Do I Evict a Tenant Who Doesn't Pay Rent? | California Evictions Explained

The eviction process in California is a serious matter. It has its own rules and timetable depending on the county where the property is located; it can also be time consuming and expensive. Advantage Property Management Services manages both single-family and multi-family rental investment properties in San Francisco's East Bay, serving cities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, including but not limited to San Ramon, Danville, Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin, Castro Valley, and San Leandro. We know that no one wants to go through it, but it is a part of being a property owner or property investor, and if you have a tenant who isn’t paying rent, it’s often your only option. Do what you can to avoid evictions by selecting great tenants, but be prepared for one if you don’t get the rent collected on time. If you have to evict a tenant, it is strongly recommended that you get help from an attorney or a property manager as one mistake in the eviction process can cost you dearly. Remember, California law protects tenants, not property owners!

Communicate with Your Tenant

Before you head to the courthouse, reach out to your tenant. When their rent is late, notify them you have not received a payment and find out when you can expect it. The goal is to collect the payment and to preserve the tenant relationship and property cash flow. Jumping immediately into an eviction is not always the best answer. Post a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit right away. This gives the tenants three days to pay rent or vacate the property. Posting the Notice is inexpensive, so you should post it even if you are working out a payment arrangement with the tenant. Don’t fall prey to a tenant’s games and wait. Let them know it is part of the collection process and that you’re open to allowing them to stay in the property provided they pay the past due rent immediately. It also lets them know you are serious about your property and collecting their rent. If you wait to post the notice, you’re delaying the eviction process. Remember, California law protects tenants, not property owners. It’s important to talk with an attorney or a property manager when evicting a tenant to make sure you are securing your rights to your property.

Start the Eviction Process

While you ultimately want to avoid eviction if at all possible, you should still file it in the courts at the expiration of the three-day notice. You’ll need to file a Summons & Complaint with the court, and the court requires you serve the tenant. The next steps depend upon the tenant’s response. You don’t want to wait to file. Waiting just encourages the tenants to think you are soft on collecting their rent, and you are losing money every day rent isn’t paid. However, do not do anything rash like changing the locks to lock out the tenant or cutting off their electricity. It is extremely important to follow the eviction process to the letter of the law which is why having an attorney or property manager handle this process is well worth it.

Default Judgment or Trial by Court or Jury

If your tenant does not respond to the eviction, you receive a Default Judgment through the court. This is the best possible outcome for you. The court will enter the judgment and provide you with a Writ of Possession that you give to the Sheriff’s office. If the tenant “answers” the case, then you will have to attend a court hearing in which you and the tenant appear before the judge to state your cases. Be prepared with all the facts and as much documentation as possible; these hearings move quickly and are unpredictable. The third and most expensive option is if the tenant demands a jury trial. The probability of winning a jury trial is very low, even in a simple non-payment of rent case, so you want to avoid a jury trial, if at all possible.

Writ of Possession

Once you win your eviction case, you’ll receive a Writ of Possession. It will be sent to the Sheriff who will post the Writ on the door and schedule a lockout. You or your property manager needs to be at the lockout with the sheriff. Make sure there is also a locksmith there who can change the locks so you can take back possession of your property immediately. Any belongings the tenant leaves behind must be handled properly. You cannot simply throw them away or sell them. Your attorney or property manager can tell you how to properly handle this situation. Filing an eviction is sometimes the only recourse you have to get your property back from a non-paying tenant. Screen your tenants well and you may never have to worry about eviction. If you need to proceed with an eviction, however, ask an attorney or professional property manager for help right away as time is of the essence. If you’re struggling with an eviction in the East Bay, contact us at Advantage Property Management Services; we’d be happy to help.