After two years of twiddling their thumbs over nonpaying tenants, California landlords are getting carried away with evictions — and the consequences are high.

Roughly 1.5 million California renters are at risk of eviction due to defaulting on rent, according to the California’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG).

Though California renters are recovering from the job losses of Spring 2020, tenants are still struggling to keep up with living costs. The California rent relief program has come to an end, an undeclared recession is here, and renters are in danger of losing their homes to unlawful evictions.

In response to this danger, the OAG is cracking down on the creative methods landlords are choosing to evict tenants. The OAG is specifically concerned with self-help evictions.

A self-help eviction is when a landlord uses their own method of recovering possession from a tenant outside the legal eviction process.

In practice, this includes:

  • shutting off the power and water;
  • changing locks; and
  • removing the tenant’s personal belongings from their home.

Either way, news of these forbidden methods traveled to the OAG and they are not happy.

The OAG is warning landlords of legal consequences when they don’t evict tenants with a proper court order.

Evictions require just cause

Court ordered just cause evictions: do it right or don’t bother.

For the last couple of years, landlords have operated under the Tenant, Homeowner, and Small Landlord Relief Stabilization Act of 2020 (The Tenant Relief Act). Since this expired in July, landlords need to refamiliarize themselves with the Tenant Protection Act of 2020 (TPA) , which was only in place for about three months before the Pandemic turned evictions upside down in 2020.

Under the TPA, landlords may now evict non-paying tenants much sooner. But the rules about when and why just cause evictions may occur are important to differentiate.

There are two kinds of just cause evictions: at-fault and no-fault. To qualify for an at-fault just cause eviction, the tenant:

  • defaulted on a rental payment;
  • failed to enter into a landlord-requested renewal or extension of a lease; [See RPI Form 565]
  • breached a material term of the lease;
  • committed or permitted a nuisance or waste to occur on the property;
  • conducted criminal activity on the premises or common areas, or used the premises for an unlawful purpose;
  • assigned or sublet the premises in violation of the expired lease;
  • refused the landlord’s authorized entry into the premises; or
  • failed to deliver possession after providing the landlord notice to terminate the tenancy or surrender possession. [CC 1946.2(b)(1); See RPI Form 576-1]

To qualify for a no-fault just cause eviction, the tenant is being evicted under no fault of their own when:

  • the landlord or their spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren, parents or grandparents intend to occupy the premises;
  • the property is withdrawn from the rental market;
  • the property is unfit for habitation as determined by a government agency and through no fault of the tenant; or
  • the landlord intends to demolish or substantially renovate the property. [CC 1946.2 (b)(2); See RPI Form 569-2 §3]

Notify the tenant with a notice

When a tenant defaults on rent, the tenant qualifies for an at-fault just cause eviction. The landlord may evict a tenant for a monetary default on their lease or rental agreement with a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent.

The landlord needs to properly deliver a three-day notice to the tenant, since the notice is invalid when the tenant does not receive the notice. [See RPI e-book Property Management Chapter 26]

Related article:

Serving notices to vacate – proof of service compulsory for unlawful detainer (UD) action

The key to qualifying for a court ordered eviction is the right notice to the tenant. The tenant needs to receive a written warning before starting the eviction process.

When serving a three-day notice for monetary default, the landlord is required to notify the tenant of the just cause eviction with a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent. [See RPI Form 575-3]

The Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent informs the tenant they:

  • breached their rental or lease agreement due to rent default;
  • have three days to resolve the issue; and
  • may surrender the premises to the landlord.

When the tenant fails to resolve the issue or surrender the premises to the landlord after three days, the landlord may serve the tenant with a Three-Day Notice to Quit. [See RPI Form 577-1]

The Three-Day Notice to Quit informs the tenant they:

  • failed to resolve the issue;
  • have three days to vacate the premises; and
  • are subject to legal proceedings if they fail to vacate.

When the tenant does not vacate the premises in three days, the landlord may proceed with a court order.

When filing for a court ordered eviction, the landlord needs to have a copy of:

  • the lease or rental agreement;
  • the notice(s) given to the tenant;
  • written proof the tenant was given the notice(s); and
  • any other helpful information, according to the California Courts.

The landlord needs to be diligent when proceeding with a court order, since one mistake is enough to throw the case and start the process all over.

With a court order, a sheriff, marshal, or their deputies are lawfully able to evict a tenant. Law enforcement may not assist a landlord in the removal of a tenant without one.

However, when a landlord chooses to sidestep the lawful eviction process and pursue a self-help eviction, law enforcement is inclined to write a report or charge the landlord with a misdemeanor for unlawful actions made against the tenant, which include the possibility of a:

  • court trial;
  • penalty fine; and
  • jail term of one year or less.

So, when a landlord decides to proceed with evicting a tenant, it’s crucial the landlord stay away from self-help evictions and follow lawful protocols to avoid severe consequences.

Read more about lawful evictions in the RPI e-book, Property Management.