Jury Trial Demands in a California Unlawful Detainer Action

Jury trials are problematic for landlords seeking to legitimately evict their tenants.  Tenants hope that a looming jury trial will cause a better settlement, meaning more money paid to the tenant to get them to move out.  Unfortunately, as discussed below, the right to a jury trial exists under California law if the tenant meets certain threshold requirements, which significantly increases the time and expenses associated with prosecuting an unlawful detainer action against the tenant. 

The Right to Jury Trial

Section 16, Article 1 of the California Constitution states that the right to a jury trial shall be preserved to the parties “inviolate”. Whenever any issue of fact is presented by the pleadings, it must be tried by a jury upon demand, unless the right to a jury has been waived by the tenant.

A tenant will be deemed to have waived a jury in the following circumstances:

  1. By not timely demanding a jury trial.
  2. By failing to appear at the trial.
  3. By written consent filed with the clerk or judge.
  4. By oral consent, in open court, entered in the minutes.
  5. By failing to announce that a jury is required, at the time the cause is first set for trial, if it is set upon notice or stipulation, or within five days after notice of setting if it is set without notice or stipulation.
  6. By failing to pay the fee on time (unless there is a fee waiver).

If none of these conditions is present, the tenant will have a right to a jury trial as a matter of law. 

Requesting a Jury Trial

A jury trial must be demanded by one of the parties.  The demand is typically made by the tenant at or around the time of filing an answer to the complaint.  Since UDs are summary proceedings, trial must be set no later than 20th day after request to set is filed (CCP §1170.5(a)).

Pre-Trial Preparation

It takes a significant amount of time and resources to prepare for a jury trial.  For example, in LA County, both parties must prepare the jury documents, including a Statement of the Case, Witness List, Exhibit List, Jury Instructions, a Verdict Form and pre-trial motions, and must exchange those documents before or on the first day of trial.

The penalties for non-compliance can be severe.  If the parties have not prepared and exchanged the jury trial documents either before or on the first day of trial the court can dismiss the case or simply continue the court date to force compliance with its rules. This results a delay in the eviction and increased costs of another court appearance. 

Synopsis of Trial Proceedings

At the trial, the landlord presents his or her case first.  To prove the case, the landlord will have to establish a factual basis for the eviction, (e.g. that the tenant breached a term of the lease agreement or his obligations under California law), that the tenant was provided proper notice to vacate the property; and that the notice has expired and the tenant is still occupying the property. The landlord may present any witnesses and documents to support his or her claims against the tenant. After the landlord finishes, the tenant presents his defenses.

When both sides have concluded presenting their evidence, both parties will make closing arguments to the jury, and the judge will instruct the jury on the law. The jury will then deliberate and render a verdict in favor of one of the parties.  That verdict is then reduced to a judgment.  If it is in the landlord’s favor, a Writ of Possession is issued authorizing the Sheriff’s Department to physically remove the tenants from the premises.  If the tenant wins, he or she will be allowed to remain in the unit for however long and on whatever terms are specified in the Judgment. 

Downsides of a Jury Trial

There are several aggressive tenant law firms throughout California that will automatically demand a jury trial in every unlawful detainer case. This trend has significantly increased the cost of litigating eviction actions. A demand for jury trial in California also significantly increases the time it gets to trial due to the increased court congestion and decrease of courtrooms available to handle the work load.  For these reasons the right to have the issue decided by 12 of your peers is generally outweighed by the increased costs, expenses and resources needed to present the case to a jury.  Accordingly, landlords rarely demand a jury trial, particularly “mom and pop” landlords of a rental unit. 

The unlawful detainer trial process frequently requires attorney representation.  However, if you have a straightforward case without complex issues and decide handle it on your own, Lynx can handle all the paperwork needed in preparation of the trial.  This includes preparing the jury instructions, verdict forms and other pre trial requirements in your particular jurisdiction.  We can be reached at 888-441-2355 or info@lynxlegal.com.  Our experienced staff is standing by to assist in any way we can. 

Create your free account to access our informative library of articles

or just give us a call

to start your case


Please login or create a free account to access our library or helpful articles.