The above question is a question I often receive from tenants after they have received a 3-day notice or 30 day notice to vacate the premises. If you are a tenant, rightfully so, you are nervous about how long you are likely to have before the Sherriff will show up at your door to lock you out. The good news is that you often have more time than you think. As an attorney who has successfully represented both landlords and tenants, I can tell you that California is an extremely tenant friendly State, and the unlawful detainer process in California can take a long time.
Many nervously ask me if on the day the 3-day notice to quit expires, if the sheriff will show up at their door to lock them out. The answer is no. A Sherriff can't lock you out unless a Judgment and a Writ of Execution are obtained. In order for this to happen the landlord must first file a lawsuit known as an unlawful detainer and then obtain a judgment. Many tenants also fear that a landlord will show up and change the locks on the date the notice expires. Rest assured, if the landlord does this, he has broken the law and there are legal consequences to his actions.
So how long does the process take?
Let's assume you get a 3 day notice. If you are served with a 3 day notice and you comply with the action called for in the 3-day notice such as paying past due rent, you generally don't have much to worry about. If the landlord files an unlawful detainer on the grounds of a 3-day notice in which you have complied with the terms, the landlord will likely lose. In the case of a 30-day notice, the landlord can file the unlawful detainer complaint after the 30 day notice period expires.
In practice, I have found that landlords' attorneys drag their feet in filing unlawful detainers. They don't always file the Unlawful Detainer on the very next day after the notice period expires. Once the unlawful detainer complaint is filed, the landlord must also properly serve you which will buy you additional time. I would say on average, in practice it takes at least a week for the unlawful detainer to be filed and the tenant to be properly served with the unlawful detainer. Although, theoretically this can happen the same day after the notice period expires.
Once the unlawful detainer is filed, you still have some time. It is imperative to file a response pleading to the complaint. At this point in time, it might be a good idea to speak with an attorney. In any event, whether you hire an attorney, or you decide to represent yourself, you need to respond within 5 days by filing either an answer, a demurrer, a motion to quash service or another responsive pleading. Filing a demurrer will attack the underlying pleading of the unlawful detainer complaint and filing a motion to quash service will attack the means by which the landlord served the complaint. You may prevail on a demurrer and win the case, and just filing the demurrer will buy you some time to file an answer to the complaint and ultimately postpone the trial. Just be sure you don't file a frivolous demurrer or motion to quash for the sole purpose of buying time because there can be consequences to filing motions that lack legal merit.
Once the responsive pleading is filed and served, the landlord must file a request for a court trial. In practice, depending on the County it usually takes about 3 weeks from the date the request for a trial is filed for the landlord to get an actual court trial. So if you are served a 30 day notice, assuming you file a responsive pleading, a rough estimate is that on average it will take about 2 months from the day a 30 day notice is served to get an actual trial. It can theoretically be shorter than this, but that is a rough estimate. In practice, it is often longer than 2 months from the date the 30 day notice is filed because land lords and especially law offices tend to have a large case load and often drag their feet a bit. There is also the possibility that landlords will move for Summary Judgment, which will speed the process up a bit from the landlord's side. If you receive a motion for Summary Judgment it is imperative that you respond right away and I recommend you consult an attorney or legal aid organization to discuss deadlines, etc.
Prior to trial, many County's have a settlement conference either on the same day of the trial or a few days before. At settlement conferences, you will have the opportunity to negotiate a deal and move out terms with your landlord. Often the landlord and tenant negotiate a firm move out date which may be anywhere from a few days to several months after the settlement conference depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each side of the case and how well the parties work together in crafting an agreement. Past due rent is often discussed at Settlement Conferences. The settlement will generally be backed by some sort of stipulated judgment where a judgment for posse
If you win at Trial, the landlord has to start the process over again if he wants to continue evicting you. Often tenants prevail at Trial based on a technical defect in the landlord's complaint such as an erroneous notice, a defect with the service of the notice, or filing the complaint too soon. If you do lose at trial, you can still obtain more time if you need it. If you have any sort of hardship such a medical issue or even financial difficulty or difficulty finding a new place you can bring a motion for stay of execution of judgment. This can buy you up to 40 days additional time, if you demonstrate hardship and are willing to deposit money with the court equivalent to the pro-rated daily rental value for the number of days extra which you would like to stay. Courts don't always grant these motions but they often do.
Once judgement and writ is issued, the Sherriff's office often drags their feet a bit too, especially around the holidays. Prior to being locked out, the Sherriff will provide you with a notice that they will be locking you out a few days in advance of the actual lockout.
So, in conclusion, it often takes a few months from the day of receiving the initial notice from the landlord to the date of the actual lock out. The above does not take into account the various Statewide and local Moratoriums that have come into place since COVID. Maybe I will write a blog article on that a different day. But, needless to say, these local Moratoriums give additional protections to tenants which mean that they can have even more time in their residences. There are also jurisdictions that have additional laws and protections that bode well for tenants.
The key takeaway is to relax a bit knowing that the unlawful detainer process often takes longer than you imagine, respond to any court filings that come your way, and obtain professional assistance if you feel it is necessary.
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