During the Case

If your landlord filed an official "Complaint" against you with the court -- and you were given a copy of a "Complaint" (Complaint - Unlawful Detainer Form UD-100) and the "Summons" (Summons-Unlawful Detainer Form SUM-130):

You have only 5 days, including Saturdays and Sundays but excluding all other judicial holidays, to do something.

NOTE: If you are being evicted, you may want to ask for help .

What Can Happen if You Do Not Respond

If you don't file your "Answer" on time, you can;

  • Lose the case,
  • Be evicted, and
  • Have your salary, money, and property taken by the landlord without warning.

If you want to defend yourself in the case, you must file a response to the lawsuit. Even if you decide you are going to leave the rental unit and not fight the eviction, it is a good idea to file a response. If you do not and the landlord wins the case, it may be more difficult for you to rent another place later because the judgment goes on your record.

You, the tenant, may feel that you have a legal defense to the landlord's "Complaint." If so, you must state that defense in a written "Answer" and file this with a court clerk by the end of the 5th day after you received the "Complaint" and court "Summons."

  • If the 5th day falls on a weekend or holiday, you can file your written response on the following Monday or non-holiday.
  • If you DO NOT file a written "Answer" by the end of the 5th day, you will lose any defenses that you may have.

Get Form to "Answer" the "Complaint - Unlawful Detainer."

NOTE: You may not need all of these forms. Or you may need more forms. If you're not sure which forms to use, talk to a lawyer. Find low-cost legal aid, For help finding local court forms you may need, go to your county's court website.

Examples of Answers

Some typical "Answers" that a tenant might have are listed here as examples:

  • The landlord's "3-Day Notice" requested more rent than was actually due.
  • The rental unit violated the implied warranty of habitability.
  • The landlord filed the eviction action in retaliation for the tenant exercising a tenant's right, or because the tenant complained to the building inspector about the condition of the rental unit.
  • For other ways you, the tenant, may "Answer," see the Frequently Asked Questions page.
It is really important that you fill out the Answer correctly. Talk to a lawyer or legal aid office for advice on what to say and how to say it. There are many cities with legal aid clinics that specifically help tenants with evictions.

After you have prepared an "Answer," a copy of it must be given to the landlord, or his or her attorney.

  • This procedure is called "service of process" and is a very important step in the proceeding.

To learn how to do this, click on on the next topic in this list.

The tenant must give copies of the court papers to the landlord.

Once you, the tenant, have prepared an Answer, make a full-set of copies and give them to someone to mail or hand to the Landlord. This is called "service of process."

There are special rules about how these forms must be given to the landlord. The tenant must ask someone who is 18 years old or older and not involved in the case to mail the papers (using first class postage) to the landlord, or may hire a registered process server to do this.

Then the tenant lets the court know that the copies were given.

After the server has mailed the forms, he or she must fill out a:

  • Proof of Service of Summons (Form POS-010)

To learn how to do this, go to the next topic in this list.

NOTE: The papers do not have to be received by the landlord before the tenant files them -- they must only be in the mail.
REMEMBER: Normally, the tenant has only 5 days to complete this whole process.

The completed "Answer" and "Proof of Service" forms must be filed in the court.

Once your "Answer" has been prepared -- and a copy has been given or sent to the landlord -- the original "Answer" and "Proof of Service" forms must be filed with a clerk in the same courthouse that the landlord's "Complaint" was filed.

  • You can see the name and address of the courthouse at the top of the landlord's "Complaint" form. Usually, this is the court nearest to where the rental property is located.
  • Learn where to file in your county.

You will have to pay a filing fee. You can call the clerk's office before you go to find out the fee, and how you can pay.

  • Get information on filing fees in California.
  • If you cannot afford the filing fees, you may file a "Fee Waiver" form to ask if the judge will allow you to pay less or nothing at all.
Remember: Normally, the tenant has only 5 days to complete this whole process.

How to Obtain a Trial Date

Courts have different rules on how to set a trial date. In some courts, the court will automatically set a trial date when the tenant files an answer. In other courts, either the landlord or the tenant must ask for a trial date by filing a Request to Set Trial Date - Unlawful Detainer. Ask a clerk or check your Court's local rules to find out how eviction trials are set in your Court.

Go on to the other sections of this list to get information about how to prepare for the trial.

Start gathering all of the information about your case.


  • The landlord has complained that you are living in his or her rental unit illegally;
  • And you have answered that the landlord is trying to evict you illegally.

It is up to the tenant to prove each point raised in his or her "Answer" to the landlord's "Complaint."

You may want to ask witnesses to come tell the judge or jury what they have seen or heard.

You may want to show the judge or jury documents that help explain your side of the story, like:

  • An original of the lease,
  • Letters you have written or received about the property,
  • Inspection reports from a building inspector or health department,
  • Receipts, or
  • Photographs.

Have at least three copies of all documents: one for the court, one for the other party, and one for yourself.

  • Organize your paperwork before you come to court so you can easily find what you need.
  • Make notes for yourself so you don't forget to tell the court something important.

You may want to practice what you are going to say in front of a friend or family member, so you feel more comfortable talking about this problem.

In California, unlawful detainer hearings take place in a courtroom. These hearings are often very short (sometimes as little as 10 - 15 minutes), so you really need to plan ahead if you want to give the judge (or jury) your information before a decision is made. To get ready for your court hearing:

Know Your Own Case

  • Read the court papers carefully. Understand what you asked for, and what the other party has asked for in their papers.
  • Before your own hearing, summarize, organize and write down the key points you want to tell the judge (or jury). Try to make it as clear and simple as you can. Be ready to explain why the court should approve (or not approve) each request. Practice speaking a few times - if you can, practice in front of friends or family.
  • Make an outline listing your reasons for each request and how the other named party responded. This will help you to speak to the judge or jury if you get nervous in court.
  • Be sure to focus on the issues that are the reason your court date was scheduled. The court cannot address issues that are not identified in the original paperwork filed to request the hearing. If you have other problems to resolve, you can schedule a separate hearing for that purpose.
  • Get ready to bring copies of all of your paperwork with you to court, including:
    • Copies of everything you've filed with the court concerning your case,
    • Copies of everything that has been served on you in this case, and
    • Any other paperwork that is related to your case.
    • Also bring a copy of an documents you have filed recently to show the court - just in case the paperwork did not make it into the file.

Find out Where to go and What These Cases are Like

  • Plan to be on time for all court dates. Look on a map and find out where the courthouse is. Learn the schedules of the buses that will get you to the courthouse, or figure out what roads would be best if driving. Learn where to park.
  • It may be a good idea to go to the courthouse and observe another unlawful detainer (residential eviction) hearing before going to yours so that you can get a better idea of what to expect.

NOTE: If you know ahead of time that you are unable to attend the hearing in person, there may be a possibility for you to arrange to participate by telephone. Call the court clerk in your county for information and to make the necessary arrangements.

  • Dress neatly and respectfully.
  • Take all of the documents that will be needed to show to the judge. Be sure you have copies for the other side.
  • If you intend to call witnesses (other than you and the other side), and have filed and served a witness list, arrange for your witnesses to be present at court. Make sure they know where to go and that they allow plenty of time to find the courtroom. Give your witnesses a copy of this page so that they know what to expect.
  • Be on time. Allow extra time for traffic or other possible delays. (If you are delayed or unable to attend the hearing due to a car breakdown, sudden illness, or other emergency, contact the department clerk on or before your hearing time.)
  • Turn off your cell phone and/or pager when you enter the courtroom.
  • When your case is called, walk to the table or podium in front of the judge and stand facing the judge.
  • Be prepared to state your name and your relationship to the case.
  • Speak clearly and loud enough that the judge can hear you. Speak only when it is your turn.
  • When you speak to the judge, act respectfully and call him or her “your honor.” Be sure never to interrupt the judge.
  • Answer all of the judge’s questions and stop talking immediately if the judge interrupts you.
  • If you don’t understand something, say that you don’t understand. Someone will try to explain it for you.

In California, Unlawful Detainer hearings take place in a courtroom in front of a judge or a commissioner, or in front of a jury if a jury trial was requested.

  • There will be other people in the courtroom - court staff, and other people waiting for their case to be heard.
  • Get a checklist on how to prepare for court on the hearing date.
  • Find your county's court website.

When your Unlawful Detainer case is called, you and the landlord (or the landlord's representative) are both to go up to the tables in front of the judge. Special Note: The following are general guidelines. The actual rules may be different in each court, so learn your county's local rules of court on trial procedures.


  • The landlord has officially complained that you, the tenant, are living in his or her rental unit illegally;
  • And you, the tenant, have officially answered that the landlord is trying to evict you illegally.

At the beginning of your hearing, the judge will ask you and the other party to state your names for the court record. The court clerk will swear you in. Then, the judge (and/or jury) will listen to both sides of the story.

  • The judge may ask anyone any questions at anytime. He or she will examine the evidence presented by both parties.

The judge or jury will decide whether or not you, the tenant, have the legal right to remain in the rental unit. This decision will be based upon many considerations, including:

  • If the landlord has fulfilled his or her responsibilities as outlined, for example, in (California Civil Code, Section 1941), and
  • If you, the tenant, have fulfilled your responsibilities as outline, for example, in (California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 1161).

At the hearing when the final decision is made on the unlawful detainer complaint, the judge or jury may:

  • Decide in favor of the tenant.
    In this case the tenant does not have to move. The landlord may be ordered to pay the tenant's court costs (for example, filing fees) and the tenant's attorney's fees. However, the tenant will have to pay any rent that the court orders. OR
  • Decide in favor of the landlord.
    In this case, the tenant will have to move. In addition, the court may order the tenant to pay the landlord's court costs and any attorney's fees, and any proven damages, such as overdue rent or the cost of repairs if the tenant damaged the premises.

NOTE: There may be more than one court hearing before the case is settled.

Once the judge or jury has made a decision, the judge will sign a court order stating what decision was made.

The court will give or mail a copy of this order to you.

For information about what happens after the hearing, see "After the Court Trial".