Tenants: Decide If You Are Going to File a Response (Step 3 of 6)

”One Two - Served With Complaint Three - Decide to Respond Four - File Response Five - Trial Six - After Judgment

After you are served with the Summons and Complaint, you have to file a response to the lawsuit with the court if you want to defend yourself in the case. The response has to be in the proper legal form. It is not enough to call or write a letter to the landlord. It is also not enough to write a letter to the court. And you MUST file your response within the deadline.


To figure out how much time you have to respond:

  • If you were served in person, you have 5 days to respond. Weekends are counted (holidays are not), but the 5th day must be a work day. So if the 5 days run out on a Saturday or Sunday, the tenant has until the end of the day on Monday (or Tuesday, if Monday is a holiday) to file a response.
  • If you were served by substituted service or "post and mail," you have 15 days after the date the server mailed the court papers to file a response. The date of mailing is the postmark date.

If you miss the deadline to respond, you may still be able to file a response.  If the landlord has not yet filed his or her “request to enter default” saying that you have not answered and asking the court to cut off your time to respond, you can still file your response. But do it right away because you do not know when the landlord will ask for the default.

There are different ways to respond. Most tenants respond by filing an Answer- Unlawful Detainer (Form UD-105 | video instructionsvideo icon). But if you believe the landlord's eviction notice, the Complaint, or service of the Complaint is defective, you may file a motion such as a motion to quash (void) service or a demurrer challenging the notice or the Complaint.

  • A motion to quash service is filed when the tenant says that the landlord did not serve the Summons and Complaint properly. If the tenant wins, the landlord has to re-serve the Summons and Complaint. If the landlord wins, the tenant will have to answer the Complaint promptly.
  • A demurrer is filed when the tenant says that the landlord did not have enough in the eviction notice or in the Complaint to justify an eviction. Demurrers can delay the case by a few weeks, and if the tenant wins, the landlord may have to start the case all over.

Talk to a lawyer or find a legal aid office to help you make sure you file whatever response is best in your situation. Click for more help finding a lawyer.  You can also hire your own lawyer to review your papers or to get legal advice with just the parts of it that you may need more help with (called “limited scope representation” or “unbundling”). Click to learn more about “limited scope representation.”

If you do not file a response within 5 days, the landlord can evict you without you having a say in the case. This can affect your ability to rent in the future because you will have an eviction on your record. And if the landlord says you owe money for back rent and you do not answer, the landlord may be able to take that money from your paycheck or bank account. An eviction can also affect your credit record.

Even if you decide you are going to leave the rental unit and not fight the eviction, it is a good idea to file a response. If you do not and the landlord wins the case, it may be more difficult for you to rent another place later because the judgment goes on your record.

Also, it is possible that the landlord may not dismiss the case even if you paid the rent and leave the unit clean. (It is a good idea for you to keep records of the rent paid and take photos so you have proof that you left the apartment clean.)

If there is more than 1 tenant in the case, each tenant who wants to present a defense needs to answer. If they want, tenants can share an answer form. But each tenant must sign the form and pay a separate filing fee.

If you are not named in the Complaint, you have the choice to include yourself in the lawsuit or to stay out of it. If you want to tell the court why you have the legal right to remain on the property, you will need to make yourself a party to the lawsuit. If you do not have a legal reason to remain on the property, you can wait until the landlord gets a court order for possession against the named tenants and then move out without the eviction showing up on your credit record.

Having an eviction on your credit record can make it harder to rent in the future, so think carefully before making yourself a party to an unlawful detainer case if you were not named in it by the landlord. (If you are a tenant in a foreclosed property, you may join an eviction case without having the case show up on your credit record. Talk to a lawyer or legal aid agency in your area to learn more).

If you want to join the lawsuit, you have the right to do so. Fill out the Prejudgment Claim of Right to Possession (Form CP-10.5) that was served with the court papers on the tenants named in the unlawful detainer case. Then file it at the courthouse within 10 days of the date the tenants were served. You must also file an Answer (Form UD-105 | video instructions ) within 5 days of filing the Prejudgment Claim of Right to Possession.

Note: If you are being evicted by a landlord who acquired the property in a foreclosure, this 10 day limit does NOT apply to you. You can file the Prejudgment Claim at any time before the judgment is final, or you can challenge the eviction after the judgment. Talk to a lawyer or call the Tenant Foreclosure Hotline at 1-888-495-8020 to learn about your rights in foreclosure cases.

If you decide to move out before the case is over, Read More about the implications.

If you decide to file an answer, you can use a form called Answer-Unlawful Detainer (Form UD-105 | video instructions ). You can use the Answer to respond to each point the landlord lists in the Summons and Complaint.

It is really important that you fill out the Answer correctly. Talk to a lawyer or legal aid office for advice on what to say and how to say it. There are many cities with legal aid clinics that specifically help tenants with evictions. Click for help finding a lawyer.

To make sure you fill out the Answer fully:

  • Read the Complaint carefully and make sure that you say in the Answer if there is anything you do not agree with or there are things that are not true.

  • There are many different things you can say in the Answer, directly in response to the landlord's Complaint or to explain why you did what you did. Include everything in your defense that you may want to tell the judge, with details and dates.

    For example, if you do not agree you owe as much rent as the landlord claims, say so and explain why you do not owe that amount. If the property is in really bad condition with rats or other pests, say so and explain if you asked the landlord to fix the problem, when you asked, and what the landlord did or did not do. If the unit needs a lot of repairs, say so. If you think the landlord is retaliating against you for something you did (like complain about things that need fixing), explain why.

Help for Filing Your Response

Talk to a lawyer or find a legal aid office to help you make sure you file whatever response is best in your situation. Click for more help finding a lawyer.  You can also hire your own lawyer to review your papers or to get legal advice with just the parts of it that you may need more help with (called “limited scope representation” or “unbundling”). Click to learn more about “limited scope representation.”

For Tenants: The Eviction Process

© 2017 Judicial Council of California