Evictions and the Eviction Process

Click Here for Eviction Flow Chart
Shows Timeline and Steps in an Eviction

If your landlord tells you to move, it doesn't mean you have to. In San Francisco, rent controlled tenants (most tenants) can only be evicted for certain "just causes." Plus, here, and everywhere in California, evictions must follow specific legal procedures and a court hearing before you can be forced to move, unless you are the sole lodger sharing the dwelling unit with your landlord. Beware: most "no-fault" evictions require landlords to pay relocation payments and restrict whether or not a landlord can raise the rent on a new tenant or convert the unit into a condominium. Tenants who move just because the landlord tells them to move without making the landlord actually issue an eviction notice, allow the landlord to evade re-rental and condo conversion restrictions, as well as relocation payments. Also beware: just because a landlord is selling a property, or just bought it, is not a ground for eviction (even if it's a foreclosure). Thousands of San Franciscans are evicted by greedy landlords seeking to raise rents—if you are facing an unjust eviction, fight back–you can win.

Do Tenants Get Relocation Payments?

No-fault evictions (just causes of eviction for the Ellis Act, owner move-in, demolition, capital improvement, & substantial rehabilitation) get relocation payments (click here for Ellis Act relocation amounts; click here for all other amounts.)

How Long Does An Eviction Take?

It varies case by case, of course, but from the time most tenants get their first notice to the point when the sheriff comes to evict takes at least a month or two, assuming the tenant responds to all notices. The basic steps of an eviction are: (1) Landlord gives eviction notice. (2) If tenant doesn't move, landlord issues second eviction notice through the court. (3) Tenant can challenge the eviction in court. (4) Court rules for tenant or landlord. (5) If landlord wins, sheriff posts final eviction notice at the tenant's home and evicts the tenant at the end of that notice period.

The Eviction Basics

Evictions Are Done Only Through Court (Except for Lodgers)
When you rent a dwelling unit, you have legal possession until you either choose to give up possession or the landlord gets a court order for possession. You have the right to bring your case to a jury. If you win, you get to stay. If you lose, only the sheriff has the right to remove you, unless you are the sole lodger sharing the dwelling unit with the landlord. (The landlord needs the right of access to the lodger's room to qualify as sharing the dwelling unit.)

You have all these rights even if you are behind in your rent. Your landlord cannot put your belongings on the street or lock you out or turn off your utilities. This is a violation of California Civil Code Section 789.3 and the landlord is liable for $100 a day in penalties.

The Eviction Process–Help Is Available
The legal eviction process is long and complicated. Along the way there are many possibilities for negotiations and ways to make the law work in your favor. Talk to the Tenants Union or a tenant attorney and plan your strategy. You will probably need help in dealing with various court forms and procedures. Go to the Eviction Defense Collaborative if you have received court eviction papers if you do not have a tenant attorney.

The First Eviction Notice
An eviction usually begins with a 3 or 60 day notice (30 days for tenants who have lived in their units less than a year). Generally 3 day notices are given for "curable" evictions (e.g., "pay the rent in 3 days or be evicted") while 60 or 30 day notices are non-curable ("I will be moving into your apartment"); these non-curable notices usually must be at least 60 days.

You do not have to leave your home by the end of this notice and your landlord can’t force you out, unless you are a sole lodger sharing the dwelling unit with your landlord. If you haven’t moved by the end of this period, only then can the landlord can begin the court eviction process. Talk to the Tenants Union when you get your notice and see if it’s a legal notice and what you should do about it.

If you are covered by the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, you can only be evicted for one of 16 “just” causes and the eviction notice must state what cause the landlord has.

The Second Notice—“Unlawful Detainer”
If the tenant doesn't move by the end of the first eviction notice, the landlords goes to court and issues a 2nd eviction notice called an “Unlawful Detainer.” Tenants will then receive a “Summons and Complaint For Unlawful Detainer.” YOU MUST RESPOND TO THIS IN FIVE DAYS or you will lose your right to a hearing on your eviction and the eviction will move much quicker. You begin counting the 5 days the day after you receive the Summons; weekends and holidays count as days, but the 5 days cannot end on a weekend or holiday. If you do not respond, you will lose automatically.

You respond to the Summons by completing a court form called an “Answer.” Your answer must be filed on this form, it must be typewritten, and you must follow certain legal procedures. The Eviction Defense Collaborative, will help you complete the paperwork and file an Answer. You must go there in person.

Your landlord will have to sit down with you before a judge and try to reach a compromise settlement if you have not reached a settlement without the judge. The eviction hearing is a trial and you can demand a jury trial.

You may have various legal defenses: Not paying rent can be justified because of uncorrected housing code violations or your lease said nothing about the restriction the landlord is claiming or you know for a fact that what the landlord is claiming is the reason for the eviction is not true. (For example, the landlord’s mother’s not moving in because she supposedly moved in upstairs last year.) Or you may have procedural defenses: Your landlord accepted rent after the notice expired or the eviction notice was not legal.

You may want to talk to a tenant attorney about representing you for your eviction. This will probably cost you money but if you have good legal or procedural defenses and you want to remain in your home permanently, it may be worth it.

Before you go to court for your trial, you will attend a “Settlement Conference.” This is where the judge attempts to have you and your landlord settle the case. Your landlord probably wants to go to court less than you do and tenants can often reach an acceptable settlement at this point. Remember, though, you do not have to settle your case; you have the right to have your day in court.

When you go to court, your landlord will present his case to the judge or jury and then you will present your case. You will be able to bring witnesses and present other evidence, such as certified reports from the Department of Building Inspection. If the judge or jury decides in your favor, you will get to stay. If the judge or jury decides in the landlord’s favor, the judge will send the eviction order to the Sheriff.

Credit Reports and Evictions
Court filings of evictions are sealed for 60 days, and if the tenant wins, they will be sealed permanently. However, some agencies that specialize in tenant screening may report the eviction. For evictions which have shown up on your tenant report, see the Federal Trade Commission requirements concerning landlord credit reports.

The Third Notice—The Sheriff's Notice
Once the sheriff has received the court order, he will come and post a Notice to Vacate on your door. The notice gives you 5 days to leave and if you do not leave by that time, the sheriff will come and remove you unless you obtained an extension. If you can’t leave within the 5 days, you can go back to court and file a “Stay of Execution.” You will need to pay one week’s rent and this will delay the eviction for a week. The law requires your landlord to put your belongings into storage for 15 days if you have not removed them by the time the sheriff removes you.

How Long Until I’m Evicted After the Summons and Complaint?

If you file an Answer to the Summons and Complaint, it will take at least 4-6 weeks from that point before the Sheriff evicts you. Sometimes it can take much longer, especially if you have a good case or if you aggressively defend your eviction on legal and procedural grounds.

If you do not file an Answer to the Summons and Complaint, the Sheriff could remove you from your home in the next week or two.

For help with some specific evictions, see:

Ellis Evictions

Landlord or Relative Move In

The SF Tenants Union is supported by your memberships and donations. If you find information on this website useful, or if you want to support our work, please join or donate. Members get even more information via our Tenants Rights Handbook plus access to phone counseling.
Join or Donate by Credit or Debit Card