How to Evict a Tenant Without a Lease

Renting property can come with many exciting challenges for all landlords whether they be skilled veterans or part time novices. Learning how to evict a tenant without a lease shouldn’t necessarily be part of every landlord’s learning process but it can happen, especially when you are just starting out and only starting to get a hold of things.

Landlords must constantly worry about many things such as the ever changing landlord-tenant laws, tax rules, discrimination laws and of course, making money. It’s important to first understand how a landlord could get into these situations in the first place to try to avoid them altogether.

How to evict a tenant without a lease

How do you get into a no lease situation?

Verbal Lease

The most popular way a landlord can get in this situation where a tenant has no lease is renting to a relative or a friend. These agreements are also called having a verbal lease.

Subletting

Sometimes one of your tenants can “hand off” your rental property to a friend or relative of theirs without letting you know about it or without knowing the consequences this could cause. If this person is not added to the lease, you technically have a tenancy without a lease.

Inheriting Tenants

Sometimes you will inherit tenants from purchasing new property. There may be times the previous owner will hand over the previous leases and sometimes you won’t get any. You now have a tenancy without a lease.

Roommates

There are situations where your roommate situation is in constant rotation, such as near a college or near a job site. Evicting roommates that are not on the lease could be considered a situation in which you have a tenant without a signed lease.

Can you evict a tenant without a lease in California?

The short and quick answer is yes. In fact, they don’t differ too much from the regular eviction process. Just as in the typical eviction route, it all starts on how the agreement was violated. After all, at the end of the day, even without a lease, there are still landlord-tenant laws that must be followed.

Even without a written and signed lease agreement between a landlord and a tenant, California law considers this tenancy to have a “verbal agreement.” This type of agreement defaults to a month-to-month agreement and both landlord and tenants are subject to California Civil Code.

1943.

A hiring of real property, other than lodgings and dwelling-houses, in places where there is no custom or usage on the subject, is presumed to be a month to month tenancy unless otherwise designated in writing; except that, in the case of real property used for agricultural or grazing purposes a hiring is presumed to be for one year from its commencement unless otherwise expressed in the hiring.

(Amended by Stats. 1953, Ch. 1541.)

California Civil Code 1943

How to evict a tenant without a lease

The first thing we must keep in mind is that landlords shouldn’t do anything illegal! Remember that evicting a tenant without a lease is a very similar process to a tenancy with a lease. Going the self-eviction route usually doesn’t end well for landlords since making mistakes along the way can cause massive delays and cost a lot of money.

What do we mean by not doing anything illegal? Some things you should avoid doing are

  • Changing the locks to your rental property, essentially locking out your tenant.
  • Shutting off utilities such as water, gas and electricity.
  • Harassing or threatening your tenants. This includes calling the police, sending illegal threatening letters, texts and emails.
  • You shouldn’t make any illegal rent increases to try and drive your tenant out.
  • Don’t retaliate. Even if your tenant is being evicted, the landlord still has to maintain the property in habitable living conditions.

Most of the legal reasons on when you could evict your tenant overlap the reasons why you can evict a tenant with a rental agreement. Some examples include:

  • The use of illegal drugs or illegal activity on the rental premises
  • Tenant causing property damage.
  • Tenant fails to pay rent.
  • Tenant has unauthorized guests or pets residing on the property.
  • Due to a government ordered reason such as health or safety.
  • The landlord is removing the property off the market.
  • The landlord (or a family member) is moving into the property.

Step 1: Serve a Notice

The very first step in evicting a tenant without a lease agreement is to serve a written notice to your tenant. This could be a 3 or 15 day notice for nonpayment of rent, 30 or 60 day notice to terminate the lease, etc. Figuring out which one is the correct one to use is why it’s never a good idea to self-evict! Serving the incorrect notice could cause massive delays later in the process if the correct one wasn’t served or if it was illegally served to the tenant.

Step 2: File for an Eviction

If your tenant fails to vacate the rental property, then it’s time to file for court ordered eviction (unlawful detainer). The rest of this process varies greatly depending on the circumstances of your case. Some tenants can delay the matter by filing a response to your lawsuit. If this is the case, it’s best you contact an eviction attorney for help.

If your tenant fails to show up to the unlawful detainer hearing or doesn’t file a response, the judge will typically default in your favor and the sheriff will assist with removing your tenant from your property.

The best way to avoid a situation in which you would have to evict a tenant without a lease is to make sure you always have your tenant sign a lease or rental agreement. Even if it’s in your own house or if it’s a friend or relative. If you find out about a subletting situation, immediately intervene and have the new occupant sign the lease. If you purchased new rental property, make sure your inherited tenants sign new leases if there aren’t any available.