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UNLAWFUL DETAINER PROCEEDINGS STAYED.  If you are a landlord who has a non-paying tenant, you will most likely be unable to evict the tenant by bringing an unlawful detainer proceeding.  This is mainly due to COVID-19.

On March 4, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in California as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 27, 2020, the Governor issued an executive order providing an extended answer period (60 days) to residential tenants suffering from COVID-19-related income loss and meeting certain other requirements, and banning enforcement of eviction orders.  The order was to expire on May 31, 2020, but has now been extended to July 28, 2020.

On April 6, 2020, the Judicial Council of California, which is the policymaking body of the California courts adopted, among other rules, emergency rule 1, which prevents courts from issuing summons on unlawful detainer complaints or issuing defaults in such actions, unless the plaintiff can show the need to proceed on public health and safety grounds.  It also continues trials in any unlawful detainer actions for at least 60 days, with no new trials to be set until at least 60 days after a request for trial is filed.

At the time, adopting Emergency rule 1 was an appropriate response because Californians were being ordered to stay at home for health and safety concerns.  The emergency rule was an effort to balance court access while ensuring public health and safety.  Unlawful detainers, were particularly problematic because they are handled in departments with high volume caseloads in a single courtroom, making it difficult to adjudicate cases and also limit the flow of people in the courts to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.  Also, unlawful detainers require quick legal responses (within five days) from defendants who are often self-represented and at a time when court self-help centers and legal aid services.  Finally, when involving residential property, these actions threaten to remove people from the very homes in which they were ordered to remain.

The Judicial Council are recommending that the emergency rule sunset on August 3, 2020. (Cal. Rules of Court, emergency rule 1(e).). The change in the sunset date means that as of August 4, 2020, unless the Legislature has enacted law providing otherwise, courts will once again be authorized to issue summons on all unlawful detainer actions, enter defaults and issue writs of execution when appropriate, and set trial dates upon request subject to CCP section 1170.5.

However, because the Legislature is now working on urgency legislation relating to unlawful detainer actions for both residential and commercial property, which may provide different procedures.  Thus, on June 10, 2020, the Judicial Council elected to suspend a vote on emergency rule 1(e).

When and if the Judicial Council adopts emergency rule 1(e), Landlords may still be delayed by local city and counties that have adopted ordinances prohibiting or substantially hindering evictions. For example on March 17, 2020, the City of Sacramento adopted an emergency ordinance establishing a temporary moratorium on evicting residential tenants unable to pay rent caused by COVID-19.  The City’s ordinance was extended to September 30, 2020 for all residential and retail first floor commercial tenants.

As for Sacramento Commercial tenants, the moratorium ended on June 30, 2020.  However, the court clerk’s office is currently barred from processing any unlawful detainer documents except for a very narrow selection of emergency ex parte applications.  Moreover, the clerk’s office has not been advised as to when it will reopen to the public.