The unlawful detainer process was designed to be a quick and easy way for a landlord to regain possession of the property. Because “quick and easy” is the goal, deadlines and court dates are expedited in unlawful detainer cases. For instance, in most cases a tenant only has five (5) days to respond whereas in other civil cases a party has at least 30 days to respond.
Once a party requests that the case be set for trial, the court clerk will schedule a trial date within twenty one (21) days. There are two methods of proceeding to trial in your unlawful detainer: Judge Trial vs. Jury Trial.
- A Judge Trial
Unless a party requests a jury trial, the unlawful detainer case will be heard by a judge or commissioner. A trial by judge typically lasts no more than an hour. Of course, it could last longer depending on the complexity of your case. If your case is likely to last longer than an hour, you should expect that your case will not be heard on the first day that you appear in court for a trial.
Most courts in Los Angeles County are so over crowded that there a courtroom or judge will not be available to hear your case on the day of your scheduled trial. If no courtroom available, not only will you be required to come back to court on another day; it is quite possible that you may have to travel to another courthouse altogether.
In cases that are less than an hour, you can typically expect that your case would be heard on the day scheduled. If you’re lucky enough to have your case heard on the same day, it may be heard during the morning court session or it could be heard during the afternoon.
- A Jury Trial
Each party has a right to demand that the unlawful detainer case be heard by a jury. If a jury trial is requested, you will likely engage in discovery in order to prepare for the trial. If a party serves discovery requests, the deadline to respond is between five to ten days unless the parties agree to extend these deadlines. You will also have to prepare pre-trial documents to submit to the court so that the judge and jury know who you intend to call as witnesses, what exhibits you plan to introduce as evidence, and what instructions you want the judge to give to the jury.
Before either party begins presenting their evidence, the parties must first select a jury to hear the case. This process will typically take at least a day. As I mentioned above, in very instances will a judge and courtroom be available on the first day you appear at court. A jury trial takes more time, which means that it becomes that more difficult to find an available courtroom.
After the jury is selected, the judge hearing your case will instruct the jury of what is required of them throughout the trial. Following the instructions, each side will have an opportunity to give an opening statement about what they intend to prove in the trial.
After all of the preliminary matters are finalized, the parties will finally have the chance to present their evidence to the jury. Again, the length of time this will take depends on the complexity of your case. Overall, you should expect that a jury trial will last anywhere from 3 to 5 days.
As you can see, a jury trial significantly slows down the fast track pace that was intended in unlawful detainers. Given this, it is clearly more advantageous for the tenant to request a jury than for the landlord.
While a party has a right to request a jury trial, there are certain requirements that must be met otherwise the right to a jury is waived. The party that requests the jury is required to post jury trial fees and must give notice to the other party of their request. You must also be sure that when you appear at court for your trial you are prepared with all of your witnesses and exhibits. A court may refuse to allow your case to proceed to jury trial if you are unprepared.