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Can Cops Evict a Tenant?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

Police officers do not generally get involved in evictions. Sheriffs do, however. There are limited situations in which sheriffs will participate in the process of removing a tenant but only when enforcing a court order.

Although eviction rules and procedures vary from state to state, generally a landlord must first succeed in an unlawful detainer suit before any official authority will work to remove tenants. To get a general idea of how you involve sheriffs in the eviction process, let's look at a procedure in California as an example.

Golden State Sample

In California, the first step in the eviction process is for the landlord to file a three-day notice to quit. If after the three days tenants remain, the landlord may file an unlawful detainer suit.

The landlord cannot personally serve the unlawful detainer paperwork. But someone else who is not involved in the suit may serve the paperwork. Depending on the county, you may also use professional process servers or sheriffs to serve the paperwork.

Remember though, this is just notice that a lawsuit has been filed. Even if a sheriff serves the paperwork, the authorities will not actually evict a tenant at this point and a landlord is not entitled to a sheriff's assistance with eviction until winning the unlawful detainer suit.

Say that happens and the suit was successful for the landlord. Now it's official. The tenants are indeed unlawfully remaining on the property and the court supports an ouster. The court signs an order called a writ of possession -- this certifies that the landlord should be in possession of the property, according to the court.

Calling County Sheriffs

Once the landlord has the writ of possession, this document is delivered to the sheriff in the county where the property is located. The difference between sheriffs and police is just jurisdictional but critical. Police work for localities (towns and cities) while sheriffs work for counties. Do not call the local police with a property matter.

Do consider calling the sheriff. The sheriff will serve the writ on the tenants being evicted. In California, a sheriff will only get involved in a forcible eviction if five days after the writ of possession is served, the tenants remain on the property.

To find out more about the eviction process where you are, consider consulting with an attorney. Whether you are a tenant or a landlord, eviction can be a painful process and getting professional help is a good idea.

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