If you are a landlord in California, you may believe that you can handle the matter yourself. After all, if they didn’t pay rent, don’t they have to go? Well, it depends.
It is far too complicated to explain all the subtle nuances, but I will do that later.
Here is how the process often works:
1. Tenant doesn’t pay rent.
2. Landlord gives gives three-day notice to quit or pay rent.
3. Tenant still doesn’t pay rent.
4. Landlord throws up his hands and goes looking for the next step. Usually this involves haggling with the tenant, trying to work it out, and this often succeeds. What happens when dealing with the tenant simply doesn’t work? Often they go down to the courthouse and ask the file clerks, who tell you to talk to a lawyer or refer you to legal aid.
5. The Landlord, like most of us, doesn’t have a pile of money sitting around. So he or she often tries to do it themselves. They buy books from Nolo Press on how to do their own Eviction, they search the internet for information, or the best option, they go to the local Legal Aid society.
6. Sometimes they find out their tenant has been there first, and that creates a conflict for Legal Aid. They cannot represent you both, so you are out of luck.
7. The next thing that happens is you file a Complaint for Unlawful Detainer. This has many of the rules like any other lawsuit, except that it is a “Summary proceeding”, meaning that it all happens very fast. It’s like a lawsuit speeded up.
8. Your complaint, which is based on your notice, must be absolutely perfect. There are a thousand nitpicky little rules that can frustrate you and make your complaint invalid. If your tenant lawyers up, they will first attack the notice. It is usually at this point that landlords realize they are in over their head.
9. Your complaint should be personally served on the tenant. At that point, they have five days to “answer” (that is a technical term for a type of pleading) the complaint. After that, you can take their default judgment and get a writ of possession. You take that to the Sheriff, who will evict your tenant in a few weeks.
10. In other words, even with an attorney your client will likely be in their for at least another month. If they lawyer up, they can be in their for months and this can turn into a giant black hole which your money is going down.
11. My legal advice here? Don’t do it yourself and don’t try to be cheap. Landlords do a surprisingly good job of helping themselves, but when things go bad, you need a professional.