An Unlawful Detainer is a lawsuit to evict you. Learn what notices you receive, who can evict you, and what happens to belongings you leave behind.
Eviction is a legal process a landlord uses to make you move out. To evict you, your landlord must give you a 3, 30, 60 or 90-day notice. If you get one of these, it’s important that you take action, like pay the rent you owe, move out, or get legal help.
If you get a 3, 30, 60 or 90-day notice and don’t take action, your landlord can file a lawsuit against you called an Unlawful Detainer.
An Unlawful Detainer tells you that the landlord is suing to have you evicted. It names the landlord as the Plaintiff and you as the Defendant. A case number and the name of the court where the lawsuit is filed are listed on the Unlawful Detainer.
If you are served with an Unlawful Detainer, get a lawyer or contact a local legal aid organization right away. (The California Consumer Justice Coalition has good resources for legal help.) You only have 5 days from the date you receive an Unlawful Detainer to file a written answer with the court.
Answering the Unlawful Detainer
If you file a written answer with the court, you will be given a trial date. At the trial, you can explain your case to the judge. If you win, you won’t be evicted.
If you don’t file an answer within five days, you can’t appear in court. A default judgment will be entered against you. Once the default is entered, you can be evicted.
Only a Sheriff can evict you. The Sheriff will post a 5-day eviction notice on your door. If you do not move out within five days, the Sheriff will return and force you to move out.
If you leave any personal belongings in the rental unit, the landlord can keep them until you pay storage costs. Storage costs start the day you are evicted but do not include back rent you may owe. If you don’t claim your belongings, the landlord can sell them at auction. If they are worth less than $300, he can give them away.
Your tenant rights
It is illegal for a landlord to lock you out, remove doors or windows, change locks, cut off utility services, or use other forms of harassment to make you move out. You can file a complaint with the police if the landlord locks you out or cuts off your utilities. You can also sue your landlord in Small Claims Court.
You have the right to complain to a government agency about your landlord. You also have the right to organize and participate in a tenants organization.
If you file a complaint with an enforcement agency, such as the health department or building and safety, the landlord cannot legally retaliate against you. Retaliation may include raising your rent, decreasing your services or taking steps to evict you. This protection is good for 180 days from the date you filed your complaint as long as you continue to pay rent and follow the terms of your rental agreement.
The eviction process
Civil Codes 1942.5 & 1983
County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Last change: Aug. 5, 2014