Service of an unlawful detainer complaint

In California, the law generally requires that an unlawful detainer complaint must be served in person to the person who is being sued, but there are several caveats to this rule.  Usually the person who serving the complaint (also called the process server) will arrive at the residence of the tenant the landlord is attempting to evict, and will ask for the defendant by name.  If the person, or persons, named as defendants in the lawsuit are not home, then the process server may leave the complaint with an adult who also resides at the property.   This is called substitute service.

* If no adult resident is found at the property, then the process server may attempt to find the defendant at his or her place of work, or some other known address.

* If the process server cannot find the defendants residing at the property after at least three attempts, then the plaintiff’s attorney can make a petition to the court to explain that the complaint has not been personally served.  The plaintiff must submit a declaration from the process server stating how he or she has attempted to serve the summons and complaint.

* The plaintiff can then request that the court allow the complaint to be served by posting a copy on the property and by also sending it through the mail.  This is called an order to post and mail.

If the court grants the petition to serve by post and mail, which they usually will, then the time to file an answer to the complaint is extended by 10 days.  If you receive a complaint posted on your door, but not in person, it is a good idea to call the clerk of the court to find out whether the plaintiff has received the court’s permission to post and mail the summons and complaint.