Small Claims & Unlawful Detainers
Small Claims Forms:
The most frequently used Small Claims forms, and
information on small claims procedures, are available for download here:
Small Claims Self-Help Packet
- This packet requires these forms (click)
Further information on Small Claims, as well as all Small Claims forms,
can be found at the California Courts Self-Help Website.
An unlawful detainer is a lawsuit that a landlord files in court to evict a tenant. If the judge agrees with the landlord, the landlord can ask the sheriff to physically remove the tenant from the rental unit. If not, the tenant can stay in the property.
Emergency California Rules of Court Rule 1 prohibiting the filing of unlawful detainers ended effective September 2, 2020. However, new legislation passed on August 31st impacts evictions and unlawful detainers beginning September 2nd. Please review the new legislation, Tenant, Homeowner, and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act AB 3088. For a plain language explanation of some of the impacts of the act see the information provided by the California Department of Real Estate .
Any mentally competent person who is:
- 18 years old or older, OR
- an emancipated child.
If you are:
- not mentally competent, OR
- under 18 years old (and not emancipated)
A judge must appoint an adult called a guardian ad litem to represent you in small claims court.
An individual cannot ask for more than $10,000 in a claim. Corporations and other entities (like, government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. You can file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500 each. But you can only file 2 claims in a calendar year that ask for more than $2,500.
You can only sue a guarantor for up to $4,000 ($2,500 if they don't charge for the guarantee). A "guarantor" is a person who promises to be responsible for what another person owes.
Yes, unless you qualify for a Fee Waiver. The fee is based on the amount of your claim and the number of claims you have filed in the past 12 months: If you have filed 12 or fewer claims in the past 12 months:
|Amount of your claim:||Filing Fee:|
|$0 to $1500||$30|
|$1500.01 to $5,000||$50|
|$5000.01 to $7,500||$75|
If you have filed more than 12 claims in the past 12 months, the filing fee is $100 (for any claim amount). If you are low-income, you may be able to qualify for a fee waiver and not have to pay a filing fee. Fee Waiver forms and information can be found here.
No. It is against the law for landlords to evict tenants on their own. Even if the tenant is months behind on the rent, the landlord cannot:
- Physically remove the tenant,
- Get rid of the tenant's personal property,
- Lock the tenant out,
- Cut off the utilities, like water or electricity,
- Remove outside windows or doors, or
- Change the locks.
Usually about 30 days, but it can take much longer if the parties do not complete and file the proper paperwork in a timely fashion. The tenant has 5 days to file a response after being served with the landlord's lawsuit before the landlord can file a request for a default judgment. If the tenant files a response, the landlord must then request a hearing date. The clerk will then schedule a trial within 20 days (or less) of the landlord's request. The trial usually takes one hour or less.
The landlord and tenant do not have to get a lawyer. But, there are strict court rules and court forms you have to fill out, file and serve. The rules and forms are complicated. And if you don't do things correctly, you may lose your case.
No. A tenant cannot file a counter-suit against the landlord in the unlawful detainer case. But, if the tenant has claims against the landlord for personal injury or damage to the tenant's personal property, the tenant can file a separate lawsuit.