Because the landlord’s use of “self-help” eviction is not permitted in California the landlord must use legal means to remove a tenant from the premises, often referred to as an unlawful detainer action.

Unlawful detainer is a legal action that derives from certain statutory authority, and is used to restore possession of real property to the person entitled to it. With limited exceptions, the action cannot be used for purposes other than recovery of possession. It cannot, for example, be used to litigate title to the property. Moreover, unlawful detainer is not a proper remedy when the tenant already has surrendered possession of the premises. Therefore, in order to prevail on an unlawful detainer action, the plaintiff must be entitled to possession when the action begins.

The right to bring an unlawful detainer action usually depends on the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship, but there are other grounds for recovery of possession using summary procedures. For example, an action for forcible entry may be brought to evict a person who uses force or terror to gain possession of the premises, or who enters peaceably and turns out the party in possession. A forcible detainer action also may be brought to evict a person who (1) uses force or the threat of violence to unlawfully hold property, or (2) gains possession in the absence of a lawful occupant (who was in possession within the previous 5 days) and then refuses to surrender possession after 5 days’ notice.

Another use of the unlawful detainer remedy is to recover possession from a person who occupied the premises as an employee, agent, or licensee of the landlord (e.g., an apartment manager). Such occupants may be evicted by means of an unlawful detainer action, without service of notice, once the relationship of employer-employee, principal-agent, or licensor-licensee has been terminated.

Unlawful detainer is frequently described as a “summary remedy” because California law recognizes that an owner of property must be able to recover possession without delay, by means of a relatively uncomplicated action. Thus, the time to plead and set the action for trial is shorter than in other civil actions, and the action has priority over other civil matters. In order to take advantage of this specially provided summary remedy, which involves termination of the tenant’s right to possession, the owner must demonstrate that the action falls strictly within the statutory provisions and that applicable notice provisions have been followed.


At Liberty Law, we use our flat fee approach to create value and consistency for landlords across the north state.

We charge a flat rate for uncontested unlawful detainer actions for local landlords and managing agents. The flat fee includes our review of the client’s intake sheet, preparing and filing the unlawful detainer action, assisting with service of the complaint and summons, filing for default if the tenant fails to timely respond, obtaining a default judgment (when available), obtaining a writ of possession and delivering the writ to the Sheriff’s office for removal of the tenant. Our aim is to make the process as simple as possible for those charged with managing the complex.