What Is an Unlawful Detainer Action?

Landlords and tenants can disagreements. If they are unable to work it out, they may end up in court. This section does not talk about everything a landlord and tenant may disagree about. It mainly talks about who has the right to live at the property.

Eviction cases are called "Unlawful Detainer" cases. Unlawful Detainer cases are complicated. Talk to a lawyer to make sure all your rights are protected and that everyone does what they are supposed to do. Look at the list of other places to get help below. If you are a defendant in an unlawful Detainer case, you may refer to the “I have been sued (Tenant)” section of this webpage for more information.


An Unlawful Detainer action is a special court proceeding. It is a legal way to evict someone from the place where they live or work. This usually happens when a tenant stays after the lease is expired, the lease is canceled, or the tenant has not paid their rent.

An Unlawful Detainer case is fast. Usually, the defendant has 5 days to file a response. You can have a trial 20 days after that. In general, the defendant cannot file a cross complaint (counter-sue). The flow chart below illustrates the evicition process.


You do not have to let the court decide the case just because someone filed an Unlawful Detainer action. You have the right to settle the case out of court. Even if you think you have a strong case or defense, there are a lot of good reasons to settle out of court:

  • Save Money:
    • If you settle early, you will not have to pay any more court or lawyer fees.
  • Save Time:
    • If you settle, your dispute will be over much faster than a trial.
  • Do Not Take off from Work:
    • If you settle early, you will not have to take time off from work to go to trial.
  • Do Not Pay the Other Side’s Costs and Fees:
    • If you settle, you cannot lose the case and the judge cannot order you to pay the other side’s court costs or lawyer fees.
  • Keep Renting:
    • It may be very hard to rent again if you have an Unlawful Detainer judgment against you. Many landlords check court records or Unlawful Detainer Registries to find out if a tenant had an Unlawful Detainer judgment against them.
  • Protect Your Credit Rating:
    • A judgment against you may ruin your credit rating.

(adapted from http://www.occourts.org/self-help/landlordtenant/index.html)

The following resources may aid you in better understanding your rights and responsibilities.  However, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your specific circumstance.