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Evictions & Landlord/Tenant Law

Unlawful Detainer Assistance
Unlawful Detainer FAQs
Security Deposit FAQs


Unlawful Detainer Assistance

An unlawful detainer clinic is held every Friday from 8 am to 10:30 am in the Court’s Self-Help Center located in Room 305 of the Eureka Courthouse. Individual assistance is provided on a first come, first serve basis. The clinic is for those who need assistance with unlawful detainer procedures and unlawful detainer paperwork. Please note that the location and hours for self help assistance are subject to change. You may call the Self-Help Center at (707) 269-1223 to obtain current information about the time and location of the clinic. You may speak directly with an office staff member every Tuesday from 10 am to 12 noon during hotline hours at (707) 269-1223. Hotline hours are subject to change.

For assistance with unlawful detainer paperwork, you may also contact Legal Services of Northern California at (707) 445-0866. Their office is located at 123 3rd Street, Eureka, CA. They may assist only tenants and certain income qualifications may apply.

Unlawful Detainer Complaint packet for landlords
- This packet requires these forms (click & download files)

Unlawful Detainer Answer packet for tenants

Unlawful Detainer FAQs:

Can a landlord evict a tenant?

Maybe. In California, a landlord may be able to evict a tenant if the tenant:

  • Is behind on the rent,
  • Breaks the lease or rental agreement and will not fix the problem (like having a pet if the contract doesn't allow it and refuses to get rid of it),
  • Commits waste and damages the property, bringing down the value,
  • Becomes a serious nuisance and disturbs other tenants and neighbors often and will not stop when asked, or
  • Uses the property to do something illegal.
In Humboldt County, the landlord can also evict the tenant if:

  • The tenant stays after the lease is up.
  • The landlord cancels the rental agreement by giving the proper written notice.

How does a landlord evict a tenant?

First, the landlord gives the tenant written notice. If the tenant doesn't do what the notice asks, the landlord can file an unlawful detainer in court when the notice period ends.

If the judge agrees with the landlord or if the tenant does not answer the court papers, the court will order the sheriff to evict the tenant. If the judge agrees with the tenant, the tenant will get to stay.

What is an unlawful detainer?

An unlawful detainer is a lawsuit that a landlord files in court to evict a tenant. If the judge agrees with the landlord, the landlord can ask the sheriff to physically remove the tenant from the rental unit. If not, the tenant can stay in the property.

Can a landlord evict a tenant without filing an unlawful detainer?

No. It is against the law for landlords to evict tenants on their own. Even if the tenant is months behind on the rent, the landlord cannot:

  • Physically remove the tenant,
  • Get rid of the tenant's personal property,
  • Lock the tenant out,
  • Cut off the utilities, like water or electricity,
  • Remove outside windows or doors, or
  • Change the locks.

What if there is no written lease or rental agreement?

A lease or rental agreement does not need to be in writing to be valid. You can have an oral lease or agreement, just like you can have an oral contract. The same rules apply with written or oral agreements.

How long does the unlawful detainer process take?

Usually about 30 days, but it can take much longer if the parties do not complete and file the proper paperwork in a timely fashion. The tenant has 5 days to file a response after being served with the landlord's lawsuit before the landlord can file a request for a default judgment. If the tenant files a response, the landlord must then request a hearing date. The clerk will then schedule a trial within 20 days (or less) of the landlord's request. The trial usually takes one hour or less.

Do the landlord and tenant need a lawyer?

The landlord and tenant do not have to get a lawyer. But, there are strict court rules and court forms you have to fill out, file and serve. The rules and forms are complicated. And if you don't do things correctly, you may lose your case.

Can a tenant sue a landlord for trying to evict him/her?

A tenant cannot file a counter-suit against the landlord in the unlawful detainer case. But, if the tenant has claims against the landlord for personal injury or damage to the tenant's personal property, the tenant can file a separate lawsuit.

Also, if the landlord tries to evict the tenant illegally, the tenant can file a lawsuit against the landlord for "wrongful eviction" and ask for punitive damages in addition to the damages the tenant actually suffered. If the tenant wins, the landlord may have to pay the tenant a lot of money. Even if the landlord wins this lawsuit, the lawyer fees can be very high. That's why it is very important that both landlords and tenants follow all the legal procedures properly.


Security Deposit FAQs:

What is a Security Deposit?

A security deposit is any money a landlord takes from a tenant in case the property is damaged, including "pet deposits" or "last month's rent".

How much can a security deposit be?

If security deposit is for a residential property without furniture, the security deposit may equal 2 times the rent.

If the residence is furnished the landlord may charge up to 3 times the rent.

There is no restriction on the amount of the security deposit for the rental of a commercial property.

Does a security deposit have to be returned?

If a tenant damages the property, the landlord can deduct the cost of fixing it from the security deposit. But if the tenant returns the rental in substantially the same condition in which it was rented (less reasonable wear and tear), the landlord must return the deposit. A landlord can't make tenants pay for painting, new carpets or curtains, unless there was serious damage. The landlord is allowed to deduct the cost of cleaning if necessary to put the unit back to the same level of cleanliness it was in at the time the property was leased (less reasonable wear and tear).

Within 2 weeks of the tenant's move-out date, the landlord must advise the tenant, in writing, of the right to be present at a walk-through with the landlord. The purpose of the inspection is to allow the tenant an opportunity to repair damage pointed out by the landlord.

When can I get my deposit back?

After you move out, a landlord has 3 weeks to return the security deposit or send a list of how much each of the damages cost including all receipts. A landlord can only charge a tenant for unpaid rent and for fixing damage by the tenant that wasn't caused by normal use.

Must I notify the landlord before I move out?

Yes. If you pay rent once a month, you have to give your landlord 30 days' notice in writing. If you don't, the landlord can charge you for the unpaid rent. Unless a new tenant pays the rent, you'll have to pay for those 30 days. If you pay rent every week, you have to give 7 days' notice.

What if I think the landlord is keeping too much money for repairs?

The landlord has to prove that the repairs are necessary and reasonable and must provide you with receipts for those repairs.

What if I can't agree with the landlord?

If you believe the landlord has kept too much of your security deposit, or you disagree with the charges, you can sue the landlord in small claims court. If you think the landlord knew they shouldn’t have kept some or all of your security deposit, but did anyway, you can sue for the deposit plus twice the amount of the security deposit in damages. The judge will give you damages if s/he finds that the landlord retained your deposit in bad faith.

What if the rental is sold while I still live there?

Both owners can be responsible for returning your deposit when you move. The previous owner can give the new owner your deposit and send you a letter telling you the name, address, and phone number of the new owner and how much money was transferred. Then the new owner has to return your deposit. Otherwise you should request that the previous owner return it.

Where can I find more information?

You can get further information from the California Courts Self-Help Website, including assistance writing a letter asking your landlord to return your security deposit.

You can also find more information at the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

© 2014 Superior Court of the County of Humboldt