Roommate Troubles Abound On 'Silicon Valley'

Over the past two seasons of HBO's Silicon Valley, our unlikely tech heroes have faced plenty of obstacles, from corporate espionage to egomaniacal investors… but on this week's episode, they're about to face one of their most perfidious enemies yet: California eviction laws. The press release for the episode, titled "Two In The Box," teases that, while "the new and improved Pied Piper impresses Dinesh and Gilfoyle, but worries Richard," Jared and Erlich will "both face housing issues." But are California houseguest rules really as strict as they seem to be on Silicon Valley? Or is the show exaggerating the situation for dramatic purposes?

Anyone who has rented a room out to a tenant in a big city like San Francisco or New York knows that the legal issues surrounding leases and evictions can be quite thorny. And yet, the stumbling blocks listed by Erlich in his clash with Jian-Yang may seem excessive to some viewers. According to the character, he's not allowed to enter a tenant's room without permission; he can't force them out by turning off utilities like gas and heat; and it could take up to a year to successfully evict a renter by legal means. And it turns out, much of this is true.

Erlich is surprisingly correct on two of those counts and only slightly off on the third. According to Nolo.com founder Ralph Wanrner, who also has a law degree from UC Berkeley, "there are only four broad situations in which a landlord may legally enter" a tenants' premises in California. One of those is in the case of an emergency, like flooding or fire; one is in order to make repairs; one is to show the property to new prospective tenants; and the last is, of course, with the tenant's permission. So yes, unless the house was literally on fire, Erlich is correct that he's not allowed to enter Jian-Yang's room without Jian-Yang's express consent.

Furthermore, it's accurate that a landlord is not allowed to turn off utilities in an attempt to force a tenant out. Such an act is referred to as a "self-help measure," and those are illegal in the state of California. Other illegal "self-help measures" include changing the tenants' locks, removing doors or windows, and seizing a tenant's personal belongings, per the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Rather than taking these steps, a landlord "must use the court procedures" to legally evict their tenant, otherwise the landlord can be fined up to $100 per day.

So what about Erlich's third claim, that it takes a year to evict someone in California? That may be the one area in which the character was off: according to UpCounsel.com, "you should expect the entire process to take about one month." However, a closer examination of the timeline reveals a much longer worst case scenario. If a landlord is evicting a tenant, they're required to serve a notice and then wait for the notice to expire before taking legal action. Normally, this waiting period is a mere three days; however, if the tenant is living there on a month-to-month lease, that waiting period expands to 30 days. And, if the tenant has been living there on a month-to-month lease for longer than a year, the waiting period expands even further to a whopping 60 days.

If the tenant has still not moved out after this waiting period, the landlord can then apply for what's called an Unlawful Detainer Complaint. (Notably, there's no timeline given for how long it might take for this application to be processed.) Once the Complaint is received, the landlord must then issue it to the tenant and wait another five days for the tenant to respond. If the tenant has still not moved out after this waiting period, the landlord can then request a trial date — which is typically scheduled approximately 20 days after the request is made.

If the trial is found in favor of the landlord, then the landlord is given a document called a Writ of Possession, as outlined by the San Francisco Chronicle. The landlord can't post the writ themselves, but rather must give it to the local sheriff to deliver; this can take up to 15 days. The tenant then has five days to move out. If the tenant has STILL not moved out after THIS waiting period, the sheriff has to return to remove the tenant, which — again — can take up to 15 days.

Obviously, we don't know what kind of lease Erlich has with Jian-Yang; but, worst case scenario, if he's been there longer than a year on a month-to-month lease, that timeline looks like: 60 days + 5 + 20 + 15 + 5 + 15 = 120 days… and that's without factoring in unknowns like how long it takes to process the Unlawful Detainer Complaint and how long the trial itself would actually take. So it looks like Erlich might be stuck with Jian-Yang for the next four months or so.

That lines up almost exactly with this actual story of an Airbnb squatter in Palm Springs, California, reported by Mashable in 2014. At the time the article was published, the landlord had not yet applied for their Unlawful Detainer Complaint after the renter claimed that he was a legal occupant, and the author noted that the entire process "could take three to six months." So no, it probably wouldn't take a year for Erlich to get rid of Jian-Yang in real life — it's unclear if this inaccuracy was a dramatic exaggeration on the part of the writers or simply a mistaken assumption on Erlich's part — but he's not wrong that the eviction process is likely to be both time-consuming and legally fraught.

If Silicon Valley has taught us anything, it's to maybe think twice before letting that friend-of-a-friend rent that spare room you're not using.

Images: John P. Fleenor, Frank Masi/HBO; Giphy (2)