What Is an Unlawful Detainer Action?

What Is an Unlawful Detainer Action?

An unlawful detainer action is an eviction action, explains Findlaw. Courts commonly use the term because in an eviction action, a landlord asserts that a tenant is unlawfully using rental property.

To initiate an unlawful detainer action, a landlord must properly serve a termination notice on a tenant, advises Findlaw. If the tenant fails to vacate the rental property, the landlord must file a complaint in the local court and pay a filing fee. Some jurisdictions require the tenant to file an answer to the complaint, while others only require that the tenant attend a hearing. If the tenant fails to answer the complaint or attend the hearing, the court issues a default judgment against him.

A common defense to an unlawful detainer action filed due to a tenant's failure to pay rent is that the property is not habitable, explains Findlaw. Courts may find that a property is inhabitable based on pest infestations, lack of heat, plumbing or electricity, health code violations, or the landlord's failure to maintain the property.

In order to obtain a judgment against a tenant, a landlord must prove the existence of a landlord/tenant relationship, that notice of termination of the relation was properly served, and the landlord is entitled to the property and the unpaid rent, according to Findlaw. After obtaining a judgment, the court clerk issues a writ of execution to be served by the marshal, who removes tenants who fail to vacate the premises by the specified time.