How Long Will This Eviction Take!?
There’s one question that we frequently hear from both landlords and tenants: How long does an eviction take?
Landlords and tenants tend to frame this question differently. If you’re a landlord, you want to know how long it’s going to take to get that deadbeat tenant out of your property. If you’re a tenant, you want to know how much time you have; how long you can reasonably expect it to take before the eviction process reaches its conclusion and you either win at trial or have a final deadline to be out of the property.
Either way, the question of how long a typical eviction takes is a good one, and it’s important information to have in deciding how you want to proceed.
Please note that every case is different. Because of that, it’s not possible to give an absolute timeline that applies to every possible scenario. This is general information that we hope informs your understanding of the overall process. For specific advice tailored to your situation, please contact us.
The first step in an eviction is for the landlord to serve an appropriate notice on the tenant. This can take various forms, but the most common eviction notices are the 3-day notice to pay rent or quit, 3-day notice to perform covenant or quit, 30-day notice of termination of tenancy, and 60-day notice of termination of tenancy.
A quick word on these notices. A 3-day notice to pay rent or quit is used for a tenant who has not paid the full amount of rent as required by the lease. The tenant has three days to either pay the rent or vacate the premises. If he or she does not do so, the landlord can move forward with an eviction. A 3-day notice to perform covenant or quit is similar, but deals with a tenant’s breach of a rental agreement in a manner other than payment of rent. The 30-day and 60-day notices to terminate tenancy are used where the tenant is not in violation of the lease, but the landlord wants to terminate the tenancy anyway. If the tenant has resided in the property for more than one year, 60 days’ notice is required. Otherwise, the landlord can terminate the tenancy by a 30-day notice.
The notice given depends on the specific factual circumstances, so we’ll set aside the notice period--it can be any of the above depending on the facts.
Once the landlord files and serves the complaint for unlawful detainer (the court document that initiates the eviction case--note that service can often take several attempts over several days), the tenant has five days to respond. This is why the unlawful detainer summons is sometimes referred to as a “5-day summons.” The five day period to respond assumes personal service; this can be extended if the complaint is served by substituted service.
The tenant can respond to the unlawful detainer complaint by filing a motion to quash service of summons, a demurrer, or an answer. For a motion to quash or a demurrer, the tenant typically has to reserve a hearing date, at least 21 days out (16 days plus five if served by mail). The landlord may ask the court to advance the hearing date. This takes some extra work, but if successful, eliminates the delay between the tenant's filing and the hearing date. Tenants can often extend this timeline by filing a motion to quash, then a demurrer, then an answer. On the other hand, in denying a motion to quash or demurrer, the court may order the defendant tenant to file an answer only, within five days.
Assuming the tenant does not prevail on a demurrer or motion to quash--or skips over these steps entirely--the tenant will then file and serve an answer. Once the tenant does so, the landlord can ask the court to set a trial date. The court is required to set the trial date within 20 days from when the request to set a trial date is filed.
Based on the above, we can estimate a rough timeline: a few days to serve the complaint (assuming everything goes smoothly with service; perhaps more if it doesn’t), plus five days for the tenant to respond to the complaint, plus anywhere from zero days to three to four additional weeks depending on what responsive pleadings and/or motions the tenant files, plus 20 days to set the trial date. Add a week of extra “contingency time” for unexpected problems or other developments, just to be safe (this happens often in litigation). This gives us a rough estimate of about 4-8 weeks from filing to trial.
If the tenant wins at trial, the case ends there and the landlord will usually have to start over, beginning with a new notice to quit. If the landlord wins at trial, the court will issue a writ of possession and transmit it to the office of the county sheriffs. The sheriff will post a notice to vacate, which typically tells the occupant(s) they have to be out within five days, and at the end of the period they will remove the tenant and any other occupants, by force if necessary. To be safe, let's estimate 1-2 weeks for the sheriff to post the notice and the notice period to run. (We have heard of it taking longer, but presumably such cases are exceptional. Some variation may happen here because of internal procedures and delays by the sheriffs. To avoid problems, both parties should prepare for the worst. If you're a landlord, you shouldn't count on the sheriff posting the notice to vacate immediately. Similarly, if you're a tenant, you shouldn't rely on the sheriff taking any additional time to post the notice.)
So, all told, our estimate is about 5-10 weeks from filing the complaint to the tenant vacating; anywhere from slightly more than a month to about two and a half months. This is setting aside any post-judgment motion for a stay by the tenant, which is certainly a possibility, but which courts do not typically grant without a showing by the tenant that he or she will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not give them extra time to get out.
While every case is different, an estimate of approximately 1 – 2 ½ months for a typical eviction is in line with our practical experience.
In closing, a lot of people say a lot of things about evictions and eviction defense. Don’t believe the people who tell you that a tenant can stay for months and months on end rent free, and don’t believe the people who tell you a landlord can get a tenant out unreasonably. In the end, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there are certainly tools a smart landlord or tenant can use to try to bend this timeline to their advantage.