Answering an eviction complaint in California

Answering an eviction complaint in California is the topic of this blog post. 

Answering an eviction complaint in California must be done quickly as a tenant in California who has been personally served with the summons and complaint has only five (5) calendar days to file their answer with the Court and serve a copy on the plaintiff or their attorney.

Failure to file and serve an answer to an eviction complaint on time will result in a default being entered against the defendant or defendants. The landlord can then obtain a judgment for possession of the premises very quickly, usually within a few days to a week in most counties. Therefore, it is vital for a tenant served with an unlawful detainer summons and complaint to answer or otherwise respond within the very short time allowed.

In general, the tenant's response is due within five (5) calendar days after service of the unlawful detainer summons and complaint. The five-day period includes Saturdays and Sundays but excludes other court holidays; however, if the fifth day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the response deadline is extended to the next court day.

However, if the summons and complaint was not personally served, but instead was served by substituted service, meaning a copy was given to someone else residing at the premises, and another copy was mailed to the tenant, or an order to post and mail ("nail and mail") was issued by the Court, than the response time is extended to fifteen (15) calendar days, court holidays are counted in this type of situation although again if the last day to answer falls on a Saturday or Sunday, or a court holiday, the deadline is extended to the next court day.

You must file an answer to the eviction complaint within the time period allowed unless you have filed another legally authorized responsive pleading that temporarily excuses the duty to answer such as a motion to quash, demurrer, motion to strike, etc.

The filing of a motion to quash, demurrer, motion to strike, or another responsive pleading that is authorized in an eviction will extend your time to answer the complaint. But the pre-answer pleading must itself have been filed within the five-day answer period, unless a stipulated or court-granted extension of time has been obtained.

Defendant's answer must be verified since the eviction complaint must be verified. Note that all answering defendants must sign and verify the answer. An unverified answer is subject to a motion to strike in its entirety; but the motion must be made within 10 days after service of the answer.

The function of the answer is to put the case "at issue" as to all material allegations contained in the complaint. Therefore, the same as with any answer to a civil complaint, the unlawful detainer answer should set forth whatever denials and/or affirmative defenses are necessary to controvert the landlord's material allegations.

All material allegations of the complaint that a defendant does not intend to admit must be effectively denied. If they are not denied then they are automatically deemed to be admitted.

Defendants should respond specifically to each paragraph in the unlawful detainer complaint by admitting, denying, admitting portions and denying portions, or denying on the basis of lack of information or belief upon which to admit or deny.

It needs to be stressed that allowable defenses are limited. Only "issues directly relevant to the ultimate question of possession" and which, if established, would result in the tenant's right to retain possession, may be asserted in defense to an unlawful detainer. 

The defendant bears the burden of pleading all essential elements of the affirmative defense or defenses raised in their answer which means meaningful notice to the landlord of the scope and extent of the affirmative defenses alleged, this means that detailed facts are not required although the more information provided in the answer the better.

Attorneys or parties in the State of California who wish to view a portion of a sample answer to an unlawful detainer complaint containing 15 affirmative defenses for sale by the author can click the link below.

Sample Answer to Unlawful Detainer (Eviction) Complaint for California by Stan Burman on Scribd


Attorneys or parties in California who would like more information on a California eviction document collection containing over 30 documents including an answer to an eviction complaint containing 15 affirmative defenses sold by the author can use the link shown below.

The author of this blog post, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995 and has created over 300 sample legal documents for sale.

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Please note that the author of this blog post, Stan Burman is NOT an attorney and as such is unable to provide any specific legal advice. The author is NOT engaged in providing any legal, financial, or other professional services, and any information contained in this blog post is NOT intended to constitute legal advice.

The materials and information contained in this blog post have been prepared by Stan Burman for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. Transmission of the information contained in this blog post is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, any business relationship between the author and any readers. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.