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preparing the UD complaint

This page tells you about:   

  1. Format of the form
  2. The caption
  3. How to name the parties
  4. Body of the complaint
  5. Prayer for relief
  6. Disclosures and verifications  

Get help filing out Unlawful Detainer forms:

See the Sample UD Complaint form packet  prepared by the Court's Self-Help Center.

  1. Format of the form

    • You can use a Judicial Council form:

      The Judicial Council has a form you can use for most Unlawful Detainer cases: Form UD-100 . Download the form by clicking the form link, or get it from any court that has Unlawful Detainer cases. See the the Sample UD Complaint form packet  for help filling out the form.

      This form is best for landlords who want to evict a tenant after giving a notice to cancel the lease early or, when a fixed term lease ends.

      For other cases, check the box next to paragraph 14. Then, write special allegations on a separate page. Attach that page to your form. You don’t have to use this form. You CAN’T use this form to evict someone after a foreclosure or execution sale.

    • Pleading paper:

      If you don’t use one of the options above, you have to write your complaint on pleading paper. You have to follow Rule 2.100 - 2.119 of the California Rules of Court . If you don’t, the clerk won’t file it.

      The Rule says:
      • What kind of paper you can use
      • What size the paper can be
      • Pagination,
      • Type style,
      • Type face,
      • Color of print,
      • Line spacing and numbering,
      • Page numbering and hole punching,
      • Format of the first page and the footer.
  2. The caption

    The first page of your complaint must start with a caption. Leave the top right side of the caption blank. The clerk will use that area to stamp the complaint.

    On the top left, write:
    • Where the court can contact you: Your lawyer’s name, address and phone number. If you don’t have a lawyer, write your name address and phone number.
    • Court address: The name and address of the court  where you’ll file the action.

    • Names of parties: The names of the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s).
    • Type of case: This has to do with how much damages you ask for in the "prayer" part of the complaint. If you ask for more than $25,000 in damages, the case is a "General Civil" Case. If you ask for less, it’s a "Limited Civil" case. You have to say of you’re asking for more or less than $10,000.

      Interests and costs don’t count as damages. For example, in a limited civil case, you can get:
      • A judgment for $25,000 in damages, plus
      • $700 interest, plus
      • $300 costs, plus
      • $3,000 attorney’s fees, The total is $29,000.

      Most Unlawful Detainers about residences are Limited Civil actions. Usually they’re not for more than $10,000. Don’t ask for an unrealistic amount of money. You’ll just have to pay more filing fees. And there will be more discovery requirements.

  3. How to name the parties

    • Plaintiffs:

      The plaintiff is the person who starts the Unlawful Detainer. In most cases the plaintiff is the landlord. The plaintiff has to be competent and over 18. They have to be able to say that they property is theirs.

      You can be a landlord even if you don’t own the property. For example, if you sublet the property, or part of the property, you are the subtenant’s landlord. You can start an Unlawful Detainer against the subtenant.

      Also, if the owner lets a management company give out leases in its own name, the management company is the landlord. The management company can start an Unlawful Detainer action. But, if the lease is in the owner’s name, the management company isn’t the landlord. The owner is the plaintiff.

    • Defendants:

      The person the plaintiff wants to evict is the defendant. The defendant must live on the property when you file. Try to name all of the adults who live at the property as defendants. It can be hard to enforce the judgment against anyone who is not named in the complaint as a defendant. You don’t have to name children under 18 as defendants.
  4. Body of the complaint

    • Who decides what to say in the complaint?

      ONLY the plaintiff or their lawyer can decide what to say in the complaint. It’s illegal for anyone else to do it.

      This means it’s illegal for a paralegal or Unlawful Detainer assistant to tell the plaintiff what to say in the complaint. It’s also illegal for an officer, owner, agent, or employee of a corporation to write the complaint for the corporation (unless they are their lawyers).

      After the appropriate person writes the information, anyone can type up the complaint.
    • Why the Plaintiff can sue:

      The complaint has to identify who or what the plaintiff is.

      For example, the plaintiff could be a:
      • Competent human being over 18,
      • Public agency,
      • Partnership, or a
      • Corporation.  
    • Defendant is using the property:

      The complaint has to say the address of the property. Or it has to give its legal description. The complaint also has to say the defendant is using the property right now.

    • Plaintiff’s standing:

      The complaint has to say how the plaintiff is connected with the property.

      For example, if the plaintiff is a:

      • Landlord,
      • Property manager,
      • Sublessor, or
      • Owner
    • The relationship between the plaintiff and defendant:

      The complaint has to say what relationship the plaintiff and defendant have. The relationship is the basis for the action. Most Unlawful Detainer actions are about a landlord-tenant relationship.

      But there are other relationships that can be the basis for an Unlawful Detainer:

      • Master-servant
      • Employer-employee
      • Principal-agent, and
      • The relationship between the buyer at a foreclosure or execution sale and the old owner (or the old owner’s tenant’s)

      The complaint also has to say how the relationship started. For example, in a landlord-tenant relationship, the complaint can say

      • There’s a lease.
      • If the lease is oral or in writing
      • Who agreed to the lease
      • The date they agreed to the lease
      • The terms of the lease. This can include how much rent the tenant pays, when rent is due, etc.
      • Any changes to the lease. This can include the rent going up, or a fixed lease to a month-to-month lease. And,
      • The date the lease started
    • Facts that support an Unlawful Detainer:

      The complaint has to give facts that prove the defendant is staying on the property illegally. For a landlord-tenant case, the complaint has to explain how the lease ended.

      If the landlord canceled the lease, the complaint has to:
      • Say what notice the defendant got. This can be a:
        • 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit,
        • 3-Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit,
        • 3-Day Notice to Quit, or
        • 30-Day or 60-day Notice to Quit
      • Include a copy of the notice
      • Say that what the notice says is true
      • Say what date the defendant got the notice and how it was served
      • Say the defendant didn’t do what the notice asked for by the deadline stated in the notice

      If there’s rent control or eviction control, the complaint has to say that the plaintiff followed those laws. If the property is a mobile home or a mobile home park or government subsidized housing, then the complaint has to say that the plaintiff followed the special laws, called statutes, for those places.

    • Facts that support money damages

      An Unlawful Detainer action is about who gets to stay on the property. Money damages don’t have to be decided in this action. You can ask for damages in an ordinary civil action.

      In general, you can only ask for money for:
      • General damages. You can ask for the “fair rental value”. This means you can ask for the money you could have rented the property for when the defendant stayed there illegally

      • Damages for “malice”
      • Back rent. You can ask for back rent if you served the defendant with a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit and the notice asked for the rent.

      If you ask for general damages, you have to say what the daily fair rental value is. This means how much you could rent the property for on the 1st day the defendant stayed illegally. In landlord-tenant cases, this is the day the lease ended or was canceled. It should be close to 1/30 of one month’s rent.

      When there’s a judgment against the defendant, the court calculates the damages. They multiply the daily fair rental value by the number of days the defendant stayed illegally until the judgment.

      It can still take a few days until the sheriff evicts the defendant. After the judgment, it’s still illegal for the defendant to stay there. But, you have to file a different action to get money damages for the time after the judgment

  5. Prayer for relief:

    The prayer for relief has to ask to get the property back. If the action is about the lease being canceled early, it also has to ask for “forfeiture” of the lease.

    You can also ask for:

    • General damages: The fair rental value of the property when the defendant was there illegally.  
    • Past due rent: Only if you served a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit.  
    • Court costs: This can be filing fees and what it cost to serve the summons and complaint. (Check the local fee schedule  for filing fees.)  
    • Lawyer’s fees: Some leases say you can ask for lawyer’s fees if you go to court. You can ONLY ask for lawyer’s fees if the lease says you can. 
    • Damages: Only if the defendant is guilty of malice and only up to a certain limit.


  6. Disclosures and verifications:

    • Unlawful Detainer assistant:

      If you used the Judicial Council form, you have to say if you paid an assistant to help you. You have to write the assistant’s:

      • Name
      • Address
      • County of registration
      • Registration number, and
      • Date of expiration of registration
    • Verify the complaint:

      You have to swear, under penalty of perjury, that what the complaint says is true. This is called the verification. The court does this so people won’t file false complaints.

      The Judicial Council form says: "I am the plaintiff in this proceeding and have read this complaint. I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that the foregoing is true and correct."

      You have to date and sign the verification.

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