Unlawful Detainer in California and How to Protect Yourself
Evictions are a nightmare, with many people rating it as the all-time most stressful experience of their lives. Even for the landlords themselves, usually, it is unpleasant and something to be avoided if possible.
If you are a tenant on the receiving end of an eviction notice, here is some important information about unlawful detainers in California.
What Is an Unlawful Detainer?
“Unlawful detainer” is the legal complaint a landlord must file with the court to have someone removed from their property—i.e., evicting that person. In effect, it is seeking a judgment that the tenant has no legal right to remain on the property. The most common reasons for filing an unlawful detainer complaint are (alleged) failure to pay rent, failure to adhere to the terms of the lease, and failure to vacate the property at the end of the lease term.
Common Defenses to Unlawful Detainer
Just because you’ve received an eviction notice doesn’t mean you necessarily have to leave the property. After all, you still have due process rights to challenge the legal basis of the eviction. Here are the most common defenses to an unlawful detainer complaint.
1. Already Paid Rent in Full
If the basis for filing the unlawful detainer was a failure to pay rent, then proving that you have in fact, paid the rent is a complete defense. Landlords must give tenants at least three days’ notice to pay the rent (a Notice to Pay or Quit) before proceeding with the eviction. You cannot be evicted if you pay the rent within that time.
2. Fixing Violations of the Lease
If the landlord alleges that you have violated the terms of the lease, they may give tenants a three-day “Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit.” This notice must identify what the tenants have done to violate the lease and give them three days to fix it. For example, if the lease prohibited pets, the tenant would have three days to remove any pets from the property.
In the case of serious violations, however, a landlord is not required to allow the tenant to fix the problems. Examples of this include:
- Conducting illegal activity on the premises (such as selling drugs)
- Causing significant damage to the property
- Endangering the health and safety of others
In these cases, the landlord need only serve a three-day Notice to Quit.
3. The Landlord Did Not Maintain the Property
Tenants may withhold rental payment if the landlord fails to maintain the property according to minimum livability standards. For example:
- Failure to provide locks on the main doors
- Failure to provide heating in cold weather
- Failure to fully waterproof the roof and walls
- Sewage backing up onto the property
4. Improper Eviction Procedure
Landlords may not resort to “self-help” eviction. That means they must give tenants notice, go through the unlawful detainer process to obtain a court order, and, if necessary, request law enforcement officials to remove people from the property. They may not skip the court process and change the lock while the tenant is away or remove their possessions.
Discuss Your Situation with an Attorney
California has robust legal protections for tenants, but you might never know about them or have any idea about how to protect your rights without the help of a lawyer. Our experienced attorneys know the unlawful detainer process inside and out; they can provide you with a practical assessment of your situation and a clear plan for moving forward.
To schedule an appointment, contact our office today.