In order to properly defend against an Unlawful Detainer action, a defendant has to file a response after the Summons and Complaint is served. The response has to be in the proper legal form. It is not enough to call or write a letter to the landlord. It is also not enough to write a letter to the court. The defendant has to serve you with a copy (usually by mail) and file the response within the deadline. You can read more about responses in the I Have Been Sued page.
If the defendant does not file a response, you may be able to evict the defendant without him or her having a say in the case. This may affect the defendant’s ability to rent in the future because he or she will have an eviction on her or her record. If the defendant owes money for back rent and the defendant does not respond, a landlord may be able to collect the money from the defendant’s paycheck or bank account after there is a judgment in place. An eviction may also affect the defendant’s credit record.
There are several steps to take if the defendant does not respond timely. First you must make sure that the defendant’s time to respond is over. Then you may request that the court enters default against the tenant(s). This can be done by filing a Request for Entry of Default. Once the default has been entered the defendant will no longer be allowed to fight the case in court. The landlord can then ask the court for a judgment for possession of the property and the money that is owed by the defendant. The steps are explained in more detail below.
The defendant’s deadline to respond starts on the day after the day they were served. The defendants can have different deadlines to respond. They might have been served on different days or in different ways. YOU have to keep track of the deadline for every defendant.PERSONAL SERVICE:
Personal service means summons and complaint was personally served on the defendant. They have 5 days to respond. For example, if the defendant gets the summons and complaint on the 1st, the 5-day period to respond starts on the 2nd and ends on the 6th. You can file for default on the 7th.
Substitute service and service by posting and mailing do not end until 15 days after the server mails the papers after substitute service on a third party or posting on the premises. For example, if the server serves the summons and complaint on a third party or posts the documents on the premises on the 31st and then mails a copy of papers on the 1st, you can file for default on the 17th.
Weekends and holidays count as days unless it is the last day to respond. For example, if the defendant gets the summons and complaint by personal service on a Monday, the 5th day to respond is a Saturday. So, the defendant has until Monday to respond. You can file for default on Tuesday.
When a defendant files a response, they have to have a third party mail or personally deliver a copy of the response to you. You can also contact the court after the time expires to file a response to check.You can do this by:
If the defendant missed the deadline to respond, they may file a late response. The defendant cannot do this if you already applied for a default. If the defendant files a response on the same day you file your application for default, the court will accept the one that is filed first. If you file your application first, the court enters default and rejects the defendant’s response. If the defendant files first, the court denies your application for default and you must then request a trial for the case to move forward.
If a defendant files a response, it is usually an Answer to the Complaint.
If you want the case to move forward, you may want to fill out a Request to Set Case for Trial-Unlawful Detainer (UD-150). Someone else must mail a copy of the Request and complete the Proof of Service on the back of the Request. Then file the Request with the court.
The defendant may also respond by filing a Demurrer or Motion to Strike the Service of the Summons and Complaint. The defendant should seek legal advice regarding these motions.The California Courts Self-Help website can give you more information about:
If you have a disability and need help, fill out a Request for Accommodations By Persons With Disabilities (MC-410) and file it with the court as soon as possible, but at least five days before the trial date.
By law, in California all official court business must be conducted in English. When one of the parties or witnesses in a case does not speak English well, that person will need a court interpreter (who speaks English and the non-English speaker’s first language) so he or she can understand what is going on and talk to the judge.
In some cases (like criminal cases) the interpreter is paid for by the court and may be a court employee. However, in civil cases, with the exception of domestic violence proceedings in Family Law cases, the person needing the interpreter must get and pay for his or her own interpreter or get a friend to help interpret. It is your responsibility to get your own interpreter. You can ask a friend, relative, or someone else to interpret for you when you go to court. Do not ask a child to interpret for you.
Keep in mind that just because someone you know speaks both English and your first language does not mean he or she would be a good interpreter. A court interpreter needs to be familiar with legal terms and concepts in both English and your first language, and most people are not. That is why it is very important you have an interpreter with experience. If you decide to use a noncertified or nonregistered interpreter, such as a friend or relative, have the person read the instructions and duties for interpreting in the information sheet called Foreign Language Interpreter’s Duties-Civil and Small Claims (INT-200).
To make sure you get an experienced court interpreter, you should consider a professional interpreter who has passed the required examinations and has officially registered and been approved as a court interpreter by the Judicial Council of California. .There are 2 types of officially-approved court interpreters in California:
Certified court interpreters: Only interpreters who pass the Court Interpreter Certification Examination and register with the Judicial Council are referred to as “certified" in these 13 languages:
American Sign Language, Arabic, Cantonese, Eastern Armenian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Western Armenian.
The California Courts website has a list of certified and registered interpreters for oral interpretation. Certified and registered interpreters may also translate documents, however, the California Courts does not test or certify an interpreter's written translation skills. The American Translators Association can also interpret documents.
Using a court interpreter can be awkward because you have to go through another person to get your information or talk to the judge. Follow these tips when using an interpreter in a courtroom:
Do not interrupt, even if someone in court says something bad about you. You will get a chance to speak.
Note: There are also American Sign Language interpreters and real time captioning for parties and witnesses that are deaf or hard-of-hearing (or have another disability). The court will provide a sign language interpreter or court reporter for you or other accommodation you may need. You can read more about this in the For Persons With Disabilities Requesting Accommodations section of this website to learn about the court's policy for accommodating persons with disabilities. Make your request as soon as possible, but at least 5 days prior to the hearing.
Children may be brought to the court and may stay in "Children’s Chambers" while their caregivers are conducting business with the court. Children’s Chambers is a safe drop-in center for children that lets children be children instead of spending long sessions listening to adult interactions that could be painful or frightening.
You can read more about which courts offer a Children’s Chambers and the guidelines.
If the defendant does not respond, they are in "default." There are three steps to obtaining a default, judgment for possession of the premises and a monetary award:
The process is complicated. You may wish to seek the advice of any attorney.
Timing: You must ask the court to enter the defendant’s default if they missed the deadline to file a response.
Fill out the form Request for Entry of Default (CIV-100): You must request that the Court hold the defendant in default for failing to respond to the Summons and Complaint. Act quickly. Until you file this form, the defendant can still respond even though their time has expired.
The boxes and sections you complete depend on whether you are asking for a Default AND Clerk’s Judgment for possession at the same time to be entered or you are just requesting that a Default be entered because the time has not expired for all defendants to respond, including "unnamed tenants" if applicable.
Serve the Request for Entry of Default: You have to mail a copy to every defendant. Serve the defendant at the address where they got the summons and complaint.
File a Proof of Service of Summons and Complaint (POS-010) for each defendant served. You have to prove to the court that you served the defendants with the Summons and Complaint and Prejudgment Right to Possession for "unnamed tenants" if served.
Effect of default: If the court enters the defendant’s default, the defendant cannot fight your request for a judgment.
If some of the defendants respond: If some of the defendants answer, you cannot get a default judgment until you have a trial (see above) and prove your case against the defendants that responded.
If you did not serve the people who are not named: If you chose not to serve a person on behalf of "unnamed tenants" you can ask for a default judgment for restitution of the premises at the same time that you request the default of all of the named defendants.
If you served the people who are not named: If you served a person on behalf of "unknown tenants" with a Summons, Complaint, and Prejudgment Claim of Right to Possession, you have to wait for the deadline for an unnamed tenant to file a Prejudgment Claim. The unnamed tenant has 10 days from the date of service to file a Prejudgment Claim of Right to Possession.
Fill out the form Request for Entry of Default (CIV-100): The sections that you complete will vary depending on whether you served "unnamed tenants" and if you previously requested a Default only. A copy has to be mailed to each defendant.
Check box 5 only if you served a person on behalf of "unnamed tenants"
Fill out the form Application for Writ of Possession-Unlawful Detainer (L-1051): This form advises the Court of the daily rental value.
Include the issuance fee.
File the forms with the clerk, including the Sheriff’s instructions and fees.
What the clerk does: The Clerk reviews your request. If it is appropriate, the Clerk enters the Clerk’s Judgment and issues the Writ of Possession.
If you gave the Clerk the Sheriff instructions and Sheriff’s fee, the Clerk will forward these documents with the Writ of Possession to the Sheriff to begin the eviction process.
What the Sheriff does: The Sheriff posts a Notice of Eviction at the property. The defendants have 5 days to leave. If they do not leave, the Sheriff can make them leave. You can read more about the Sheriff’s eviction procedures.
Timing: Typically, money damages are requested after the defendants have moved out or been evicted by the Sheriff so that the full amount due can be figured.
File the original and one copy.
Fill out the form Declaration For Default Judgment by Court (UD-116): You have to give the court a sworn declaration that proves the money you ask for.
This section is under construction. However, you can read about the basics of collecting your judgment in the Small Claims section of this website beginning with "Hearing to Disclose Assets."
If you have already filed the unlawful detainer papers at court, and the tenant moves out before the trial, you have 2 choices:
To request a dismissal of the case, file a Request for Dismissal (CIV-110).
If you do not dismiss the case or ask that it be changed to a regular civil case for damages, the defendant may go to the trial and ask the court to dismiss the case because he or she has already moved out. If the defendant wins, he or she may get an award of costs for having to come to court for the trial when the case should have been converted to a regular civil case or dismissed.
Figuring out how to properly obtain a judgment to evict the defendant can be complicated. Completing the paperwork incorrectly can delay the eviction. The court’s Self-Help Center staff can provide you with general information; however, you may wish to consult an attorney who specializes in Unlawful Detainers. The cost of an attorney may be cheaper than the additional rent and damages you lose if your case is delayed or dismissed for a legal defect.
You can find the location of the Self-Help Centers, Lawyer Referral Services, and online resources about landlord-tenant law on the General Information page of the section of the website.
Go to the Settling Out of Court page.