Unlawful Detainer Case
An “unlawful detainer” lawsuit is a complaint brought by a landlord to obtain possession of rented property and receive payment of back rent.
In order to legally evict a tenant (remove the tenant and lock the tenant out of the property), the landlord must serve notice on the tenant and file an unlawful detainer lawsuit.
Information & FAQs
Click on the topics and FAQs below for more information.
For an extensive list of Questions and Answers, please see the Housing section of the California Courts Self-Help Center
If you are served with an unlawful detainer complaint, you have five days to respond in writing to the landlord’s complaint by filing a written “answer” at the Clerk’s Office. After you file your answer, the plaintiff will file what is called an “At-Issue Memorandum,” which is basically a request for a trial date. The Court will set the date and notify you both by mail of the time and place of trial. There is a filing fee when you file your written answer; however, it is possible to obtain a waiver of the fee if you cannot afford to pay. In order to obtain a fee waiver, you must file an Application for Waiver of Court Fees and Costs at the time you file your answer. The Application for Waiver of Court Fees and Costs form may be obtained from the Clerk’s Office.
If the case goes to trial and the landlord wins the unlawful detainer lawsuit, the Court will issue a “judgment for possession.” To enforce the judgment, the landlord will then obtain a Writ of Possession that directs the Sheriff to enforce the judgment for possession of the property. This legal document authorizes the Sheriff to physically remove you and lock you out of the property. The Sheriff’s cost for the eviction may be added to the judgment, which the landlord can collect from you.
The Sheriff will serve you with a Notice to Vacate the property before enforcing the Writ of Possession. After the Sheriff serves the notice, you have five days to move. If you fail to move within the five days, the Sheriff will physically remove you and turn over possession of the property to the landlord.
There is no trial if you do not file a written response to the unlawful detainer complaint. However, the Court may enter a default judgment in favor of the landlord and issue a Writ of Possession after the fifth day if you fail to respond. This default judgment allows the landlord to obtain possession of the property through a Notice to Vacate.
To change your trial date, you need to file either a: (a) motion for continuance, or (b) written stipulation, which is an agreement by both parties, along with a declaration showing a good reason for the continuance, and a proposed order to be signed by the judge.
The paperwork must be filed as soon as the need for a continuance is known.
Please see our Self-Help/Low-Cost Resources page for information on how to get assistance with your unlawful detainer case.