Notices, Notices, Notices! What Do They All Mean?

When you come home and see a notice on your front door, then it can cause you to panic. “What did I do wrong?” “Am I late on the rent?” “Did my kids do something wrong?” All those thoughts can run through your mind when your landlord posts a notice on your front door. Landlords can serve different types of notices on tenants for different reasons. Over the next few blog entries, we’ll take a look at some of the notices that a landlord might serve on a tenant and see what they mean. Today we will focus on the Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit.

The first notice that most tenants will be familiar with is a Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit. This is a notice that a landlord serves on the tenant if the tenant has not paid rent on time. Most tenants’ rent is due on the first of the month (your lease should tell you when your rent is due). Rent is due on that date, regardless if that date is a holiday or a weekend. Most tenants’ leases, however, also state a date on which the rent is late. This is known as a grace period. The number of days can vary. So some tenants’ rent payments are due on the first of the month and are late on the fifth of the month. Once the tenant’s rent is late, then the landlord can serve the Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit. If the landlord tries to serve the notice before the rent is late, then they are going to run into complications down the road if they try to evict the tenant. Normally, landlords know when they can serve Three-Day Notices to Pay or Quit.

What are the tenant’s options when a Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit is served upon the tenant? First, the tenant can pay the rent (and any late fee) within that three-day period. If the tenant pays the past-due rent within that three-day period, then the landlord cannot try to evict the tenant.

But when do the three days end? If a tenant is served on a Monday, then do the three days expire on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday? Surprisingly, counting days can be a little tricky in the law. But here’s the scoop: the day on which the tenant is served the notice does not count as one of the three days. So, if the tenant was served the notice on Monday, then the tenant would have Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to pay the rent. If Friday rolls around, and the tenant still has not paid the past-due rent, then the landlord is entitled to begin eviction proceedings. Now, to be candid, the landlord may still take a tenant’s rent even beyond the expiration of the three-day period, but the landlord doesn’t have to take the rent. The landlord can instead decide to evict the tenant for failing to pay the rent.

There are several other factors that determine when the three days actually expire. Factors such as how the notice was served on the tenant (in person, posted on their door, given to someone else in the family), what day of the week it was served, and what day of the week it is set to expire can all significantly impact when the three days expire. Because there are so many variable factors, tenants are encouraged to speak with a lawyer about their particular situation and concerns.

The next option that a tenant has if they are served with a Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit is to quit. Quit? Yes, the tenant has the option of packing up and moving out of the apartment or home within the three days. But this does not mean that the landlord cannot come after the tenant for outstanding rent and for future rent. Put simply, this option has one benefit: it keeps the landlord from beginning eviction proceedings against the tenant. For all tenants know that one of the worst things that you can have on your record when looking for a new apartment is an eviction proceeding.

Eviction proceedings are a special type of legal proceeding that is primarily concerned about removing a non-paying tenant from the apartment or home, so that the landlord can get a new tenant in who will pay rent. As a result, eviction proceedings get priority in the courthouse. But if a non-paying tenant moves out within that three-day period, then the law won’t let the landlord file an eviction proceeding against the tenant. The tenant still will have the right to sue the former tenant for the past due rents and future rent, but the landlord would have to go to a different courthouse to do that, and those courthouses take a lot more time and money to bring about justice. As such, landlords are a lot more likely not to sue the tenant who just ups and moves out within three days of being served a Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit. It doesn’t mean that they won’t, or that they are not entitled to do so. Rather, it just means that the odds are less likely. And, sometimes, for a tenant, that can be worth the risk.

As a practical matter, if you are a tenant and you know you are going to be late on your rent, then you want to let your landlord know ASAP. Working with your landlord is always better than surprising your landlord. Life happens. People get laid off. People lose their jobs. Emergencies fall into everyone’s laps from time to time. The tenant who knows that he or she cannot pay the upcoming rent is smart to let their landlord know in advance.

When a tenant is laid off from work and is waiting for unemployment to kick in before the tenant can make the rent payment, the landlord is likely going to be a lot more lenient if the landlord knows what happened and approximately when the tenant’s unemployment is going to kick in. Remember, landlords are in the business of renting apartments. If they have to wait a few extra days to get the full rent, then they are likely going to wait. It doesn’t mean that they are lawfully required to wait, but from a practical standpoint, they are likely going to opt to wait for the rent payment over beginning eviction proceedings.

Can the service of a Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit ever be evidence of housing discrimination? Yes, potentially. But this is going to be hard to prove. If the landlord is quick to serve Three-Day Notices to Pay or Quit on one group of persons (for example, single men), but not on other groups of persons, then it may be evidence of discrimination. If you think that you might be a victim of discrimination, then you want to focus on the most important thing at the moment: getting caught up on your rent. Once you do that, then you need evidence (not just pure speculation) that supports your suspicion. If there is evidence of discrimination, then you may want to pursue a claim.

In the end, the sight of notices on your front door are never a pleasant sight. Read them immediately, and be prepared to act. If you are behind on your rent, then pay the past due rent (and any late payment) within three days of receiving the notice or you run the risk of being evicted.

Published by

Stuart E. Fagan

Fair housing litigator with over 25 years' experience accepting cases in California.