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The California Eviction Process: Cost & Steps

The eviction process in California can be lengthy and costly. We review all of the steps involved in the process and what it might cost you as a landlord.

The dreaded eviction. A nightmare for both tenants and landlords, the eviction process is lengthy and expensive. It involves months of back and forth with attorneys, the court, and your tenants. 

Many property owners aren’t fully aware of the costs and steps involved in an eviction. In this article, we’ll review the different costs associated with the process and what steps are required. 

Attempt to Negotiate

The fight to get possession of your property can be an emotional one. “Many landlords lose sight of the true end goal because they get frustrated that they are in this situation. They want the eviction on the tenant’s record, no matter the cost,” said Natalia Vanni. “But the main goal of an eviction is to get your property back. If this can be achieved without starting the eviction process, we strongly recommend it.”

Before you start an eviction, you can offer your tenant an alternative as a last-ditch effort to get them to vacate. This could include giving them a set deadline to vacate or requesting they pay any outstanding rent or any fees you have incurred by filing the initial paperwork. 

Unfortunately, not all tenants will want to negotiate. They may think you will not proceed with the eviction, so they stand their ground. But if you have exhausted all other options, it’s best to begin the eviction process. 

Steps of Eviction

The timeline of an eviction varies but often takes 3 to 4 months minimum to complete from start to finish. In 2022, we are seeing the process take at least 5 months as a result of additional tenant protections originally put in place due to the pandemic.

Because so much of the timeline relies on response from the court, landlords often experience long waiting periods with infrequent updates from their attorneys. 

1. Post The Notice

The first step is to serve your tenant with the initial notice, which will inform them of the issue and what is required of them to resolve it. You must have a legal reason for evicting the tenant, such as nonpayment of rent, lease violation, property damage, nuisance, or illegal use. The different types of notices are as follows: 

  • 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit – for failing to pay rent.
  • 3-Day Notice to Cure or Quit/Perform a Covenant or Quit – for curable violations, such as not maintaining the rental unit in a clean and sanitary manner or for having unauthorized pets.
  • 3-Day Notice to Quit – for incurable violations, such as illegal activity, excessive property damage, criminal activity, etc. 
  • 30/60 Day Notice to Quit – for termination of the lease agreement. This is most commonly used for terminating month-to-month tenancies. 

Fill out the appropriate notice completely and serve it. Be sure to conform to all other service requirements, such as mailing the notice on the same day. If you are already working with your attorney, they can assist you with this. Make a copy of the notice for your records and fill out a proof of service (This will be important to record, should the case escalate to the courts).

person signing papers

2. File With The Court

Once the deadline on the notice has passed, you can file with the court. Gather copies of all necessary documents, including: 

  • The lease or rental agreement and any written changes the tenant agreed to 
  • The notice you gave your tenant
  • Written proof your tenant was given the notice
  • The tenant’s rental application
  • The tenant’s ledger
  • Any other important communications the attorney should be aware of

You will then fill out the Summons and Complaint for unlawful detainer forms, and your attorney will file them with the court. Make copies of everything submitted and post the Summons and Complaint to your tenant. Be sure to check with your local courts to see if there are any other forms you need to submit.

3. Trial or Default Judgement

Once your tenant is notified, they will have five days to respond. The two standard responses are no response or the tenant filed an Answer. If they did not respond, you can ask for a default judgment. An Answer from the tenant means they intend to fight the eviction. 

If your tenant does not contest the Summons and Complaint, the judge will order a default judgment for the tenant to pay court costs and attorney fees. Five to 14 days later, you’ll get a Writ of Possession, which instructs the sheriff to lock the tenant out of the property. The sheriff will visit the property and notify the tenant that they must be out in five days. If they are not, they will be forcibly removed.

If you do not receive a default judgment, your case will go to trial. Once the defendant files a response with the court, the trial will normally be set within approximately 20 days. If the defendant files pre-trial motions and/or requests formal discovery (interrogatories/depositions), additional delays might occur.

4. Decision

The judge will make a decision after hearing both sides. They will either side with you and the tenant will vacate, or they will side with the tenant and the tenant will remain in your property. 

A Writ of Possession will be issued in the event you win the case. The sheriff will post this notice to the tenant five to 15 days after judgment and the sheriff lockout will occur approximately one week later. You should be prepared to meet the sheriff for the lockout and hire a locksmith. They will change the locks so the tenant cannot access the property.

The judge may also order your tenant to pay back rent, damages, penalties, and costs (attorney and court fees) related to the case. If your tenant wins, you may have to pay their costs associated with the case. 

Cost Breakdown

There are a few different types of fees involved in an eviction. In total, an eviction will likely cost you around $3,000-$4,000 (not including lost rent). 

Attorney Fees

You’ll need to hire an attorney for any eviction proceedings. They know the law much better than you do and can provide valuable information throughout the process. Hiring an attorney will cost you a minimum of $500, but it will more likely be closer to $2,000, should the enter eviction process play out.

Court Fees

The first step of any eviction process is to file a claim with a court. Depending on your location, this fee will vary. In San Diego, you can expect to spend between $250 to $450 on the initial filing depending on the total case amount. 

Lost Rent

This is one of the biggest and most frustrating costs to endure during an eviction. Evictions often take months to complete, which leads to months of rent your tenant isn’t paying and could add up to thousands of dollars in losses for you. 

This problem has only worsened since the start of the pandemic. Multiple eviction moratoria have been enacted throughout the county, resulting in a backlog of cases for the San Diego courts. 

“We are seeing each step of the eviction process take three times longer than it used to,” said resident property manager Bryce Baker. “An eviction we filed in July of this year [2022] is stuck in the Summons and Complaints phase whereas, pre-pandemic, we could expect the entire process to be complete by now.” 

Even if you win the case, owners typically reclaim only 40-50% of lost rent. When an eviction goes to collections, the collection company will negotiate the amount owed with the tenant directly, often for a lower amount than is technically owed. From there, collection companies retain 50 to 60% of the collected amount, leaving the owner with only that 40 to 50%.

Property Damages

Unfortunately, along with nonpayment of rent usually comes property damages. Once a tenant has been served, they will lose interest in maintaining your property. You’ll already have your standard turnover costs once the tenant finally vacates, but these costs will likely be higher than usual after an eviction. Keep in mind that you can use their security deposit for these damages and for unpaid rent. 

Preventing an Eviction

Finding a great tenant at the start can help you avoid messy legal situations. The best way to prevent the need for an eviction is thorough tenant screening. Create a written rental criteria to stick to. 

You should always require the following from an applicant: 

  • Government-issued photo ID
  • Income verification
  • Landlord contact info for the last 3 years

Once you’ve received a completed application, run a credit and background check on the applicant. Credit history can be a big indicator of potential issues. 

You can also list common reasons to deny an applicant, such as having a credit score below 624, previous eviction judgments, collections from former landlords, negative landlord references, and non-discharged bankruptcies. 

Even a great screening process doesn’t guarantee you won’t encounter problems with a tenant. The most common reasons for an eviction are nonpayment of rent or what’s called a holdover tenant. These are tenants who refuse to vacate once their lease ends. 

As we mentioned previously, it’s best to negotiate with your tenant before proceeding with an eviction. “Evictions should only be utilized when negotiating is not possible and there is no other choice,” said resident property manager Brent Zimmer. “It’s painful for all parties involved, especially the [property] owner.”

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The dreaded eviction, an absolute nightmare for both landlords and tenants, evictions are costly and very, very time consuming. It can involve months of back and forth potentially with courts, attorneys, and your tenants. Hi guys, I’m Adam Manley with Good Life Property Management and today we have everyone’s favorite topic, the dreaded eviction process. I’m going to be going into a lot of detail today about the whole process from start to finish, really giving you guys kind of an overview of what that whole process looks like. I know a lot of owners out there are familiar with evictions, they know of them, they generally know what’s happening during the process, but I feel like I can bring a lot of clarity to actually what happens during the whole process from start to finish. And before we jump in, just a reminder guys that if you enjoy videos like this, give this video a thumbs up and subscribe for more content just like this. So I know I mentioned we’re going to be going into great detail about the whole process of evictions themselves, but there’s actually a step before the eviction process that we have to talk about and it’s arguably the most important step of the entire eviction process. And that’s actually not evicting your tenant at all and attempting to negotiate with them. Now this is going to come as a surprise for a lot of landlords, evictions can be super emotional, there can be a personal aspect to the property that the tenants renting from you. So a lot of times landlords really want to make sure that they put something on the tenants record and go to the ends of the earth practically to make sure that the tenant pays for the pain that they potentially caused this time. So while attempting to negotiate may not initially sound like a good first step, it’s actually the best thing that you can actually do in a situation where you may have to evict your tenant. Evictions are absolute lose lose situations. As I mentioned at the top of the video, they cost a lot of money having to hire an attorney and they can take three to six months potentially even longer depending on the exact situation with your court system and how evictions work where you live. There are lots of different ways you can attempt to negotiate with your tenant, but this could actually lead to you getting your property more quickly and have the tenant just get out without any courts or attorneys having to get involved. As I mentioned, there’s lots of different ways you could do this. Sometimes simply just asking the tenants and having that real conversation with them and asking them, hey, this isn’t working out, how can we come to an agreement where you get out of the property, I get my property back and turn that lose lose into a win win. So before we get into the actual process, I wanted to spend some time talking about the most important part of having to potentially evict a tenant and that’s starting with a negotiation and trying to get them out that way. All right, guys, so now we’re actually going to be getting into the actual process of the eviction once your tenant has become delinquent on rent. And the first step of the eviction process is actually posting a notice to what’s called pay rent or quit. This is going to, you’ll post this notice depending on your individual lease and notice periods change from city to city. So make sure you have a good understanding of when you’re allowed to post this notice and how you have to post it, which is also a very important part of the process. The notice to pay rent or quit is essentially the first step of the eviction process and it formally lets the tenants know that they are officially delinquent on rent, it’s past the grace period and they have a specified amount of time to pay the balance or what’s called quit, which is essentially surrender the property. And again, this is the first part of the actual eviction process and the timeline for the post will vary from where you live. So step two of the process is actually filing the what’s called unlawful detainer with your local court system. And again, this will depend depending on your notice periods and when you’re actually allowed to file this. So check with an attorney or a local with your local municipality to get a better understanding of when you’re actually allowed to file the unlawful detainer. But that is what actually will get the eviction trial started. So your attorney will file that unlawful detainer and you’ll generally wait a little while to get a date in court where you’ll appear before a judge for a trial in this case for nonpayment of rent with your tenant. And that’s generally the second step of the eviction process. So the third step of the eviction process after you file the unlawful detainer is actually obtaining a summons from the court. Now, the summons will go out to both you and the tenants and the tenants will actually have the opportunity to contest this summons. If they do, get ready for a trial. You and your attorney will need to appear in court and present your case to the judge outlining why they’ve been delinquent on rent and why you’re bringing this case against them. If the tenant does not contest the summons, the judge will generally issue what’s called a default judgment. They’ll write up what’s called a writ of possession, which will also give the sheriff instructions on how to remove the tenants. Now, that’s the fourth and kind of final step of the process once you’ve won your case is actually regaining possession of your property. All right, guys. So the fourth and final step of the eviction process is actually getting your property back. You’ve made it. So if you win your case and the sheriff has received the writ of possession, they will post this at the property letting the tenants know that within a specified amount of time, they’re going to be coming back to the property to potentially remove anyone left inside of the property. This is what’s called the lockout procedure. You’ll want to be really prepared to meet the sheriff the day of the lockout and also have a locksmith there to change all the locks just in the event the tenants going to be taking a key with them. Once the sheriff completes the lockout and clears the property, you officially have possession of your property back. Again, the timeline for all of this is really going to depend on your local court system and how the eviction laws in your area work, but that is the view from the 10,000 foot level of what it’s going to look like to evict your tenant for non-payment of rent. So you’ve learned a little about how the eviction process works and I’m sure you’re probably asking yourself, well, how do I actually stop all of this from happening? It’s a really great question. Here at Good Life, we found a really great way to prevent evictions is just with very thorough tenant screening up front. Develop a great application screening process and use it consistently for all of your properties. Set limits for things like credit, previously owed rental payments to landlords, things like rent to income ratio, number of accounts and good standing on their credit report. There’s a lot of good objective criteria that you can use and screen your tenants for up front to do as much as you possibly can to prevent any eviction from ever happening. Alright, guys, that wraps up the video on the eviction process. Just a reminder, screen your tenants well up front to prevent the eviction. If you do have to go down that road, try and negotiate first. Quick recap of the process. You post the notice, file the unlawful detainer, trial or summons date, and then you get possession of your property back. Thanks so much for tuning in. Just as a reminder, stay tuned for part two of the video where we’re going to be talking more about the cost of an eviction in a little bit greater detail as well. Once again, I’m Adam. That’s Olivia behind the camera. We’ll see you guys next time.