FAQs

Eviction - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I find out if a unit is rent-controlled?

A: Most rental units in California are not rent-controlled. But if the unit is in a city with rent control, there may be many more protections in place for tenants that you should know about.

The best way to find out if rent control applies to a unit is to check with the city or county offices, with the local legal aid, self-help center, or your public law library. Click to find out if the rental property is in a city with rent control.

Keep in mind that even if the property is in a rent-controlled city, the property itself may not be covered under rent control laws.  A lawyer or legal aid office can help you figure out if the unit in question is covered under rent control laws.

Q: What should I do if my tenant seems to have moved out?

A: If rent is 14 or more consecutive days overdue and the landlord has good reason to believe that the tenant has moved out without letting the landlord know, this is called "abandonment." 

If this happens, the landlord can send the tenant a Notice of Belief of Abandonment that includes the name of the tenant and the address of the rental unit. It must also say that this is a "Notice of Belief of Abandonment" and say what date the landlord is ending the lease or rental agreement. The date must be at least 15 days after the landlord serves the notice in person, or 18 days after he or she serves the notice by mail. The landlord must also sign and date the notice. 

The tenant has 15 days if served in person, or 18 days if served by mail, to send the landlord a response telling the landlord that he or she has not abandoned the premises, or to pay the landlord all or part of the rent that is owed.

If the tenant does not answer the notice, the landlord can move the tenant’s belongings out and rent the place to someone else without having to file an unlawful detainer case.

BUT the landlord must be very careful because if the rent was not overdue for 14 days, or he or she did not wait long enough for the tenant to answer, or he or she had no good reason to think that the tenant moved out, the tenant could sue the landlord for “wrongful eviction.”

Q: Can a tenant sue a landlord for trying to evict him or her?

A:  A tenant cannot file a countersuit (cross-complaint) against the landlord in an unlawful detainer case because the law provides a quick process for landlords to recover possession of their property through this procedure.

 

If, however, the tenant moves out before the unlawful detainer case goes to trial, the landlord is supposed to either dismiss the case or ask the court to change it to a regular civil case for damages if, for example, the tenant still owes the landlord back rent. Once the case is changed to a regular civil case for damages, the tenant can file a cross-complaint, but this must be done promptly or the tenant will waive the right to countersue. The tenant may be able to file a separate lawsuit against the landlord for personal injury or damage to the tenant’s personal property if the unlawful detainer case is not converted to a regular civil case for damages.

 

Also, if the landlord tries to evict the tenant illegally by locking the tenant out without a court order, 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 penalty in addition to reimbursing the tenant for the costs the tenant incurred as a result of being locked out. That is why it is very important that both landlords and tenants follow all the legal procedures properly.

Q: I am a landlord and I filed an unlawful detainer case, but the tenant seems to have moved out before the trial. What can I do?

A: If you have already filed the unlawful detainer papers at court and the tenant moves out before the trial, you have 2 choices: (1) dismiss the case or (2) ask the court to convert the case to a regular civil case for damages to collect back rent in the amount requested in the unlawful detainer complaint. If this is your situation, talk to a lawyer for help.

To request a dismissal of the case, file a Request for Dismissal (Form CIV-110).

If you do not dismiss the case or ask that it be changed to a regular civil case for damages, your tenant may go to the trial and ask the court to dismiss the case because he or she already moved out. If the tenant wins, he or she may get an award of costs for having to come to court for the trial when the case should have been converted to a regular civil case or dismissed.

Q: What if I live at the property but my name is not listed on the court papers as a tenant?

A: 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 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.

Read the Guide for Tenants to learn how to file an answer to the unlawful detainer case. Once you have answered and joined the eviction lawsuit, you need to prepare for trial the same as the named defendants, so follow all the instructions in the guide for tenants as if you were served with the lawsuit yourself.

Q: What responsibilities do landlords have?

A: Landlords must make sure:

  • The outside walls, windows, and doors protect tenants against water or weather.
  • The plumbing and gas fittings work properly.*
  • There is hot and cold running water, appropriate fixtures, an approved sewage system, and the water supply is not contaminated.*
  • There is a working heater.
  • There is adequate lighting and electrical wiring that meets safety standards.*
  • The premises and common areas must be clean and free from pests.
  • There are adequate garbage containers.
  • The floors, stairways and railings are not broken.

*The landlord must meet the standards in effect when installed as well as current building and house code standards. For more information, read California Civil Code section 1941.

The landlord must also promptly repair problems related to the habitability items listed above. If the tenant gives notice of a problem and the landlord fails to fix it, the tenant may be able to pay for the repair and deduct the cost from the rent. This only applies if the cost is not more than 1 month’s rent. Read Civil Code section 1942.

The landlord must give reasonable notice to the tenant before gaining entrance to the rental unit, unless there is an emergency that requires immediate entry (such as fixing a broken pipe).

There are other responsibilities that landlords have, and you can read about them in the materials from the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Q: What responsibilities do tenants have?

A: Tenants must:

  • Keep the rental unit clean.
  • Dispose of trash in a sanitary manner.
  • Operate electrical, gas, and plumbing fixtures properly.
  • Not damage or remove any part of the rental unit, its facilities, or equipment.
  • Use the rental unit as a home and live, sleep, cook and dine only in the intended areas.

There are other responsibilities that tenants have, and you can read about them in the materials from the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Q: What happens when the tenant works for the landlord?

A: If the tenant works for the landlord and lives on the property without paying rent as a condition of employment, the landlord can file an unlawful detainer case without first serving notice if the tenant no longer works for the landlord. It does not matter if the tenant quits or is laid off.

Q: What happens when the tenant lives in a residential hotel?

A: If you live in a residential hotel that has 6 or more rooms for 30 days or more and the hotel is your primary residence, you have the same legal rights as a tenant. The manager is not allowed to make you check out and reregister to prevent you from gaining the legal rights of a tenant.

Q: What are the eviction rules when the tenant lives in a mobile home or an RV park?

A: There are special rules for tenants in mobile homes and R.V. parks.

To read more information on mobile home tenants.

To read more information on RV park tenants.

Q: Are there special eviction rules if the tenant lives in a tax credit unit?

 A: Yes.  The landlord must give the tenant an explanation for ending the landlord-tenant arrangement, and he or she must have a good reason ("just cause") for eviction. To find out if the unit is a credit unit, look for the property at the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee.

Q: What happens if there is a foreclosure on the rental unit?

A: It depends. The new owner must honor the existing lease. BUT in month-to-month tenancies or when the people occupying the property are the former owners who are being foreclosed on, the new owner can evict the tenants or former owners. In these cases, the new owner may either (1) offer the existing tenants a new lease or rental agreement or (2) begin eviction proceedings. If the new owner chooses to evict existing tenants who are not the prior owners, the new owner must give tenants at least 90 days' notice before starting eviction proceedings. To evict the prior owners, the new owner only needs to provide a 3-day notice.

Tenants in some California cities may still have a right to stay in their buildings. Cities with eviction or rent control laws prohibit new owners from using foreclosure as a reason for evicting tenants.

For more information, talk to an attorney or a legal aid office. Click to find a legal aid office near you or for help finding a lawyer. Tenants may also call the Tenants Together's Tenant Foreclosure Hotline at 1-888-495-8020.

Click for more details on the new law protecting tenants in foreclosures.  And read the information and resources at Tenants Together's Law & Resources web pages.

Foreclosure: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: The place I rent is in foreclosure. Will I be able to stay?

A: If you are a tenant and the property you rent goes into foreclosure, the new owner must honor the existing lease. BUT when you have a month-to-month lease, or when the people occupying the property are the owners who are being foreclosed on, the new owner can evict the tenants or former owners. In these cases, the new owner may either (1) offer the existing tenants a new lease agreement or (2) begin eviction proceedings. If the new owner chooses to evict existing tenants, the new owner must give them at least 90 days’ notice before starting eviction proceedings.

Tenants in some California cities may still have a right to stay in their buildings. Cities with eviction or rent control laws prohibit new owners from using foreclosure as a reason for evicting tenants.

There are other rights that tenants have in eviction cases done after a foreclosure. If a tenant is not named in the complaint for the eviction, he or she may be able to challenge the eviction at any time during the case or even after the judgment for eviction is made. 

There are resources for tenants to get more information about their options. Tenants may call the Tenant Foreclosure Hotline at 1-888-495-8020. And read the information and resources at Tenants Together's Law & Resources web pages.

Learn more details and read the federal law protecting tenants in foreclosures.

If you need additional information, talk to a lawyer. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q: How can I find out if the place I rent is in foreclosure and what is happening with the foreclosure?

A: Tenants can record, in their county recorder’s office, a form called a Request for Notice, asking that they be notified of any foreclosure proceedings. This way the tenant will receive a copy of the Notice of Default and Notice of Sale and know the status of the foreclosure. You can buy a Request for Notice at stores that sell legal forms or get 1 from the customer service department of a title company.

Q: What happens after my home is sold at the foreclosure sale?

A: Whoever buys your home cannot just change the locks to the home. The new owner must serve you with a 3-day written notice to “quit” (move out), and then must take you through the formal eviction process in court in order to get possession of the home. That process typically takes several weeks.

Click to learn more about the eviction process.

Q: What happens to my tenants in the foreclosure?

A: It depends. The new owner must honor the existing lease. BUT in month-to-month tenancies or when you (as the owner/landlord) also live in the building that is being foreclosed, the new owner can evict the tenants or you. In these cases, the new owner may either (1) offer the existing tenants a new lease or rental agreement or (2) begin eviction proceedings. If the new owner chooses to evict existing tenants (other than you), the new owner must give them at least 90 days’ notice before starting eviction proceedings.

Tenants in some California cities may still have a right to stay in their buildings. Cities with eviction or rent control laws prohibit new owners from using foreclosure as a reason for evicting tenants.

There are other rights that tenants have in eviction cases done after a foreclosure. If a tenant is not named in the complaint for the eviction, he or she may be able to challenge the eviction at any time during the case or even after the judgment for eviction is made.

There are resources for tenants to get more information about their options. Tenants may call the Tenant Foreclosure Hotline at 1-888-495-8020. And read the information and resources at Tenants Together's Law & Resources web pages.

Learn more details and read the federal law protecting tenants in foreclosures.

If you need additional information, talk to a lawyer. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q: What is a “power-of-sale” clause?

A: It is the clause in a deed of trust or mortgage in which the borrower pre-authorizes the sale of the property to pay off the balance on a loan if the borrower defaults (fails to make the loan payment when due).

The power given to sell the property is generally given to the trustee who acts on behalf of the beneficiary (lender) by recording and sending Notice of Default and Notice of Sale.

Q: What is a “deficiency judgment”?

A: It means that the lender can get a money judgment from the court for the difference between the total amount the borrower owed (including penalties, fees, and costs) and the amount that the property was sold for at the auction.

When a lender uses the nonjudicial foreclosure process against a borrower who fails to pay on a mortgage loan for his or her primary residence, the lender gives up the right to collect a deficiency judgment against the borrower. In a judicial foreclosure, the lender may have this right. But most lenders prefer the nonjudicial foreclosure process anyway because it is faster and less costly.

Q: Where can I get more information about foreclosure?

A: ForeclosureInfoCA.org: A project of the Public Interest Clearinghouse and the State Bar of California, this site can direct you to legal assistance, advice on avoiding foreclosure, and information on buying a home.

A Guide to Mortgage Resources in California: This site, by the California Department of Consumer Affairs, provides information on buying and owning a home, as well as how to look for help with a current mortgage.

Housing and Economic Rights Advocates:  Has consumer pamphlets, tips, and information to help you be better informed about foreclosure, preventing foreclosure, working with lenders, and other resources.

Tenants Together's Law & Resources:  Information to help you know your rights, answers to frequently asked questions and resources to help you be better informed about foreclosure and your rights as a tenant in a foreclosure.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guide to avoiding foreclosure contains links that can help you find a local HUD-certified housing counselor, learn about refinancing options, and understand the steps homeowners can take to avoid foreclosure.

 

Security Deposits: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When can I get my deposit back?

A: After you move out, your landlord has 21 days to return the security deposit or send an itemized list of each deduction, including all receipts. Click for help writing a letter asking your landlord to return your security deposit.  Your landlord can only charge you for unpaid rent and for fixing damage by you that was not caused by normal wear and tear.

Note: If you paid as part of your security deposit an amount that was designated in the lease or rental agreement as “last month’s rent,” that amount may be used for your last month’s rent. Other forms of security deposit cannot be used to pay your last month’s rent unless the landlord specifically agrees to allow it.

Q: Must I notify the landlord before I move out?

A: Yes. If you pay rent once a month, you have to give your landlord 30 days’ notice in writing. If you do not, the landlord can charge you for the unpaid rent even after you move out. Unless a new tenant pays the rent, you will have to pay for those 30 days. If you pay rent every week, you have to give 7 days’ notice.

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

A: The landlord has to prove that the repairs are necessary and reasonable and must provide you with receipts for those repairs. It is important that you photograph the condition of the rental unit when you move in and when you move out. This will help to prove that you did not damage the property.

You can also request a walk-through with a checklist that you and the landlord complete when you move in and when you move out. This checklist is used to identify any problems with the unit. You are entitled to receive a copy of the checklist. Click for a checklist form you can print out.

Q: What if I do not get my deposit back after 3 weeks?

A: Write a letter to your landlord if you feel too much was retained from your security deposit and explain why you believe you are entitled to a larger refund.

Keep a copy of the letter for your records.

If the landlord still refuses to pay you your security deposit or returns less than you believe is correct, you can go to mediation to try to resolve your dispute out of court. Click for more information on mediating your security deposit dispute. Or you can sue the landlord in small claims court, which is informal and inexpensive, as long as the total amount sued for is $10,000 or less.

Q: What if I cannot agree with the landlord?

A: You can try a local consumer mediation program to see if you can resolve your dispute out of court. Click for more information on mediating your security deposit dispute.

If you do not want to go to mediation or if mediation did not work, you can sue the landlord in small claims court, which is informal and inexpensive, as long as the total amount sued for is $7,500 or less. You can sue for the security deposit plus twice the amount of the security deposit in damages if you believe the landlord has acted in bad faith when he or she did not return your deposit.

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

A:The landlord is supposed to transfer your security deposit to the new owner, and the new owner is supposed to refund all of the deposit, or the portion of the deposit that you are entitled to, when you move out. If the previous owner fails to transfer the security deposit to the new owner, you can sue the prior owner for its return, or for the portion that you are entitled to receive.

Q: What if only 1 roommate is moving out?

A: If the person moving out paid the deposit to another roommate, that roommate has to return the deposit. If the person moving out gave the deposit to the landlord, and the landlord has a separate rental agreement with the roommate moving out, the landlord returns the deposit. If, however, the roommates all signed 1 rental agreement for the unit and only 1 of the roommates moves out, the landlord does not have to return the security deposit until all the roommates have left.

Roommate situations are complicated. It is important that your rental agreement specifies each roommate’s rights and responsibilities.

Q: Where can I find more information about security deposits?
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