In an ideal world, when you rent a home or other property, you will select the perfect tenant who takes excellent care of the premises, always pays rent on time, and abides by the lease terms. In reality, not every renter will honor their commitments, and some may even engage in dangerous activity on the premises or damage your property. If you are in a situation where your tenant is not paying or is otherwise not taking care of your property, you need to know, what can I do about a bad tenant?

The Problem with the Tenant

Under ordinary circumstances, if you believe you have a bad tenant, the first step is to determine if your problem is actionable under California law. If the tenant has done one of the following things, you may have  grounds for eviction:

  • Failed to pay rent,
  • Violated a term of the lease agreement (and won’t fix the problem),
  • Damaged your property in a manner that lowers the property value (commits waste),
  • Has been a “nuisance” to neighbors (even when they are asked to stop),
  • Made improper use of the property (doing something illegal), or
  • Stayed after the lease term has expired.

Giving the Tenant Notice

If you are faced with one of these situations, your next step will be giving the tenant notice that they need to either pay you, fix the issue, or leave the premises. Before a landlord may end a tenancy for a fault-based eviction, the tenant must be provided with at least a 3-Day Notice.

The way you give the tenant notice and the actions you take next will depend on numerous factors. Landlords must properly serve their tenants and adequately describe the problem in their notice. Service can be accomplished through either personally giving the tenant the notice or by using an agent. If that doesn’t work, you can use another form, such as substituted service (by mail).

In general, if the problem is correctable, you will give the tenant notice of what it is and three days to make it right. If the issue is not something the tenant can repair, you will notify them of when they need to vacate the premises. If the tenant refuses to leave after the lease term has expired, you may have to wait longer to file suit.

California “Unlawful Detainer” Actions

In general, after the notice period ends, the landlord can ask for eviction. In California, an eviction is known as an “unlawful detainer” action. These cases are filed when a tenant remains in possession of the property after a landlord has terminated the lease or tenancy. Once the tenant is served with notice of the unlawful detainer action and has an opportunity to respond, the court will eventually hear evidence regarding your case. If the court finds in your favor, it will issue a Writ of Possession, which you can take to the local Sherriff to serve on the tenant. After service, the tenant has five days to vacate the property. After the notice expires, the Sheriff can return within six to fifteen days and physically remove the tenant. At that point, you can change the locks on the property.

All that being said, the Coronavirus pandemic has drastically impacted landlord-tenant relationships, and, depending on where you live, the rules regarding unlawful detainer actions may have been temporarily suspended or changed.

The Pandemic and Evictions

The first step is knowing the remedies that may be available to you as a landlord. An important caveat being the coronavirus pandemic. Although you would ordinarily be able to take action against tenants for certain behaviors, the pandemic has created an uncertain situation for landlords, especially when it comes to eviction.

California lawmakers have put some COVID-19-related legislation in place, and the federal eviction moratorium is still in effect. Additionally, Los Angeles County recently extended this protection into February of 2021. There have also been reports of California lawmakers extending the moratorium into 2022.

Landlords are facing unprecedented conditions when it comes to determining how to proceed with unlawful detainer actions during the pandemic. Every case is different and will depend on the facts and circumstances involved. Before you take action against a tenant, it’s crucial that you consult with a California real estate attorney who can help you determine the current status of the unlawful detainer laws in your area and how they may apply to your circumstances.

Attorney Raffy Boulgourjian is a California real estate attorney with over twenty years of experience representing clients in residential and commercial real estate cases. He has the knowledge and expertise to assist with your unlawful detainer action, landlord-tenant disputes, and all of your other California real estate interests. Contact Mr. Boulgourjian today to schedule a free legal consultation to discuss your California real estate needs.

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