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Unlawful Detainer Basics

By Jeremy Liem


The term Unlawful Detainer refers to removing someone from a property who claims to have an interest in that property.  The most common type of Unlawful Detainer is when a landlord tries to remove a tenant from a rental unit.


Reasons to Evict


There are three common reasons to evict someone from a rental unit:  failure to pay rent, failure to adhere to the terms of the lease, and staying in the property after the rental term has ended.




For each reason to evict someone, the landlord must provide that person with notice before going to court.  When a landlord believes that the tenant has not paid rent, or is not adhering to the terms of the lease, the landlord can give the tenant a 3 Day notice.  If the tenant does not pay or fix the conditions that breach the lease, the landlord may then evict the tenant.


In a month-to-month tenancy, which is the default time period, the landlord must give the tenant a 30 day notice to leave the premises.  The landlord does not need to have a reason to evict a tenant in a month-to-month tenancy.  If the tenant has been living in the unit for over a year, the landlord must provide the tenant with a 60-day notice.




The easiest way to defend against an Unlawful Detainer lawsuit is by showing the court that the landlord has not adhered to the proper procedural requirements to evict the tenant.  Landlords who try to evict tenants without the advice of an attorney often make mistakes about the type of notice to give to a tenant, or don't include the proper information in the notice.  This causes a lot of wasted time, wasted money in court fees, and results in the tenant staying in the unit longer than necessary which results in lost rental income.


Another common defense is Uninhabitability.  This defense is used when the unit does not adhere to basic living standards.  Common habitability violations include lack of hot water, leaks, vermin infestations, lack of adequate heat, and holes in the walls or floors.


A third defense is Retaliation.  A landlord is not allowed to evict a tenant because the tenant has requested repairs to the rental unit, or if the tenant is trying to enforce any other legal obligation.  The tenant often must show that they made a legitimate request to the landlord, that the landlord refused that request, and the landlord attempts to evict the tenant reasonably soon after the request was made.


If you have any questions regarding the relationship between a landlord and tenant, or if you need help evicting a tenant, or defending against an eviction, please give our office a call or send a message in the form below.

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