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  • Daniel Rodriguez

What Is an Unlawful Detainer?

There was a time when property owners took the law into their own hands and simply removed tenants for any reason–and at gunpoint, if necessary. The owner was the king of his castle, and those who lived there were his subjects. However, as the years passed, this type of approach became increasingly problematic and unacceptable to society. In modern times, taking the law into your own hands or using self-help to remove tenants is illegal, and can result in lawsuits and judgments against the landlord.

When a tenant status beyond the terms of his or her lease without authorization he or she is engaged in unlawful retainer. The legal process of removing a tenant who refuses to vacate the premises is known as an “unlawful detainer action.” It is predicated on the view that the landlord cannot use force or the threat of force or coercion to remove a tenant from the premises. Instead, the landlord must seek the assistance of our judicial system to have the tenant removed by the Sheriff if the tenant refuses to voluntarily leave.

What Happens When a Tenant Fails to Vacate the Premises Following the End of a Lease?

The starting point in the legal process is service of a written notice by the landlord, which asks the tenant to leave or which can allow the tenant to stay if the tenant cures a breach in the lease (usually a request that the tenant pay rent that is past due). If the tenant fails to cure and fails to vacate as requested, the landlord must file a lawsuit to force the tenant to leave. That lawsuit is called an “unlawful detainer action.” There are many steps and procedures that the plaintiff landlord must strictly follow to succeed in an unlawful detainer lawsuit. In this lawsuit, the tenant is provided with full “due process” rights and is allowed to respond and have his/her day in court, if it comes to that. The last step in the legal process of removing the tenant who refuses to vacate is when the Sheriff shows up at the front door and, if needed, uses all necessary and reasonable force to remove the tenant.

How Long Does It Take to Evict a Tenant in California?

The bad news is that it takes time from the date the Notice to Terminate is served to the time the Sheriff actually shows up to remove the tenant. Fortunately, under California law, unlawful detainer lawsuits are given “priority” by the courts. This means that a trial date must be provided within 20 days from the date the landlord requests a trial. How long it takes to evict a tenant depends on a number of factors including:

  1. The type and duration of the notice provided to terminate the tenancy

  2. How quickly the landlord/his/her attorney files the lawsuit after the notice is served

  3. How quickly and efficiently the courts process the lawsuit

  4. How quickly the landlord can have the tenant served with the summons and complaint

  5. Whether the tenant responds to the lawsuit by filing an answer

  6. Whether the landlord is able to take the tenant’s default for failure to timely file an answer

  7. Whether a trial becomes necessary

  8. Whether there are any delays in setting the matter for trial

  9. How quickly the paperwork is processed to have the Sheriff remove the tenant

These various factors result in a wide range of results in the timeline regarding the answer to the question, “How long does it take to evict the tenant?” It may be as short as 12 days (if all the stars align correctly) from the date the tenant is served with the summons and complaint; or, it may be as long as 2 to 3 months if the tenant uses and abuses the rules of the system to his/her advantage, and the landlord has not aggressively pursued a speedy process. The worst-case scenario is when an innocent mistake is made from the landlord’s inability to follow the rules, which are strictly construed against the landlord, and results in a victory for the tenant and in the landlord starting over.

Work with Sacramento Real Estate Lawyer

NewPoint Law Group, LLP, LLP has a knowledgeable and experienced Sacramento real estate attorney who will, to the greatest extent possible, minimize the chances of a “worst-case scenario” and aggressively keep the case moving towards a landlord’s repossession of property as fast as the law allows. To schedule a confidential legal consultation, call 800-358-0305 or contact us online today.

Be sure to check out our Unlawful Retainer Blog Series for further information:

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