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Judicial Council Limits Courts from Processing or Hearing Eviction Lawsuits

by on April 7, 2020

posted in Landlord-Tenant, Uncategorised,

As we  explained in a previous post, the Governor very recently issued an executive order that limited landlords’ abilities to evict tenants during the COVID-19 public-health emergency.  Yesterday, the Judicial Council—the agency with oversight of California courts—enacted several emergency rules affecting a wide variety of courtroom procedures.  One of these rules addresses “unlawful detainer,” or eviction, proceedings.  As many cities have enacted their own emergency eviction measures, and other cities are considering doing the same, this latest development is important to note.

Some might refer to the Judicial Council’s emergency rule as a “moratorium” on eviction proceedings. But while this might describe the practical effect of the Judicial Council’s action, it is not technically accurate.  The order does not stop new eviction proceedings from being filed.  It instead prohibits a superior court from issuing a summons—the legal document that must be served on a tenant to compel the tenant’s appearance—except when necessary to protect the public health and safety.

What this means is that even if a landlord files an eviction lawsuit, the tenant cannot be served with the lawsuit while the rule is in effect.  This provides a significant protection for tenants for what could be a long period of time.  The emergency rule does not sunset until 90 days after the Governor declares the COVID-19 emergency to be over (unless the Judicial Council repeals the rule sooner).  Effectively, landlords might now be unable to pursue evictions until well into the summer or fall.

The emergency rule also deals with existing eviction proceedings by preventing courts from entering “default” orders against tenants who do not file answers, except when necessary for health and safety reasons.  The rule also requires unlawful detainer trials in pending cases to be continued for at least 60 days.

The Judicial Council’s emergency rule is broader than the Governor’s latest executive order in that it applies to residential as well commercial evictions.  By precluding courts from issuing summonses and entering default orders, the Judicial Council rule also addresses some of the criticisms tenant-rights advocates made against the Governor’s order.  In addition, the Judicial Council rule does not require tenants to furnish proof of their inability to pay rent, as the Governor’s order requires.

As a practical matter, the combination of the Judicial Council emergency rule and the Governor’s earlier executive order will prevent nearly all landlords from evicting tenants during the COVID-19 emergency.  It is doubtful that city eviction moratoria or measures are necessary anymore or would be enforced beyond what the Governor’s order or Judicial Council rule provides.

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tags: COVID-19, Evictions, Unlawful Detainer,

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