3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit in California

Below the most comprehensive information about 3-day notice to pay rent or quit in California. This page includes the newest updates for 2019. Please check back on this website as this information may change or be updated.

A Three-Day Notice is the most common and quickest way to initiate the eviction process if the tenant is deliquent in paying the rent. The majority of Evictions, called Unlawful Detainer cases are for nonpayment of rent.

Before Preparing a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit

Before you prepare a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit, you need to keep the following in mind. Below are the basic elements that are needed prior to preparing the notice.

  1. You need to have a Landlord-Tenant Relationship.
  2. You must have an agreement with the tenant to pay rent. This can be an oral or written agreement, but you must have a meeting of the minds, and your testimony of that is usually sufficient if you don’t have a written rental agreement.
  3. The rent that you are demanding on the 3-Day Notice is now Past Due.
  4. The rent demanded on the notice cannot be for more than 12 months past due.
  5. That necessary repairs have been made or attempted at the property to avoid a defense of habitability raised by the tenant.
  6. If the tenant has been making partial payments, an accurate ledger of the payments and continuing rent due is necessary.

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A 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit Must Include the following:

A 3-Day Notice for non-payment of rent must be completely accurate and contain any mistakes of fact.  Obviously, the amount of rent that is past due must be stated. However, the notice must also state:

  • The names of all tenants and occupants 18 years old or older known to the landlord at the time the 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent is served.
  • The date range or period for which the rent is due, for example, September 1, 2019, to September 30, 2019, or any longer period for which the rent has not been paid.
  • The complete address of the rental property including any unit number such as Apartment #1, along with the city, state and zip code.
  • The name, address and telephone number of the person to whom the rent must be paid. Do not change this if there is a location to pay rent in the rental agreement. If you have changed the address where the tenant makes the payment, You should first serve a notice of change in terms of the tenancy before you serve a notice to pay rent or quit. The notice of change in terms should be served at least 10 days prior to the service of a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit.
  • You must also include the usual days and hours that the landlord or the person to whom the rent must be paid is available to accept the rent. You cannot write down “Any Day” or “Any Time”. We recommend that you write down days such as Monday through Saturday and the hours as 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Don’t worry about not being available the entire time during the hours, just put the hours on the notice, the tenant can always call you, as your phone number is required to be on the notice as well.
  • If payment can only be made by mail, such as to a P.O. Box, then the usual days and hours that the person is available to receive the rent payments are not required. However, if the tenant can show proof that they mailed the rent to the mailing address provided by the landlord on the Three-Day Notice, then the law deems that the landlord received the rent payment on the date of the postmark, not when the landlord actually receives it.
  • The landlord can also designate a financial institution for the tenant to pay the rent, such as a bank or credit union. If you decide to use a bank then you must include the street address and account number of the financial institution where the rent payment may be made, and the financial institution must be within five miles of a rental property unless an electronic fund transfer procedure was previously established for paying rent. If so, then payment may be made using that procedure.
  • A 3-Day Notice must also include a demand that the tenant pays the past due rent within three days or quit (move out of) the property occupied by the tenant.
  • Finally, it must also include a statement that the landlord will pursue an Unlawful Detainer lawsuit if the tenant does not pay the entire past due rent within three days or move out of the dwelling.

How to Serve a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit.

California landlords or anyone they designate age 18 or over can serve tenants who are past due in paying rent with a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. 

The Three-Day Notice must be served pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) 1162. (See the law here) What does that mean in plain English?

  1. Personal service by handing the notice to the tenant personally. You can hand the notice to the tenant personally or any one of the tenants named on the notice on behalf of all tenants.
  2. By leaving a copy of the notice with a person of suitable age and discretion if one of the named tenants or occupants is not at home. If you serve the notice in this manner then you must also mail a copy of the notice via first-class mail, postage prepaid to the tenants at the rental unit address.
  3. By posting and mailing. If you are unable to serve the tenant(s) in either of the two methods above, then you may post a copy of the notice in a conspicuous place on the property that is the most likely to be found by the tenant or occupant.

We recommend serving the tenant by personal service only if the landlord shares the same unit as the rental, for example, the landlord is renting out a bedroom. If the landlord has any control over the mailbox then only personal service of the notice should be used.

  • Keep in mind that rent must be past due, not just due. For example, if the rent is due on the 1st of the month then the rent is past due on the 2nd of the month, however if the first of the month falls on a Saturday, Sunday or court holiday then the rent is not technically due until the first business day of the month and therefore not past due until the next day. So, let’s assume that rent is due on January 1 and that falls on a Saturday. Technically, the rent is now due on Monday, January 3 and not past due until Tuesday, January 4, and that would be the first day that you can legally serve a Three-Day Notice that complies with the California law or statute. Before you can serve the notice and you will need to know how to calculate the three days including when you can serve the notice on your tenant and when the notice expires.
  • To calculate the three days, do not include the day that you served the notice. Do not count Saturday, Sunday and court holidays. (New for 2019) If the last day falls on a Saturday, Sunday or court holiday then the tenants have until the next court or business day to pay and that is the day that your notice to the tenants expires, (see CCP 12a).

Sometimes, everything goes right: You serve the notice, the tenant pays up right away and stays on schedule in paying the rent always on time. But there must be something like a Murphy’s Law (Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong), especially for landlords. Sooner or later, landlords with multiple properties are likely to run into problem tenants.

What happens when the tenant doesn’t have all of the rent that is due on the 3-day notice to pay rent or quit?

Partial Payments: When a tenant becomes past due in the rent and the landlord has served a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit, then the landlord is giving the tenant an ultimatum. The ultimatum is either pay the full amount of the past due rent or quit. Quit means to move out of and vacate the rental property.

The landlord is not required under the law to take partial payments, it’s an all or nothing deal for the tenant.  However, many landlords may accept partial payments in an attempt to get the tenant back on track. If the landlord accepts a partial payment, then the 3-day notice is now void, however, you can reserve another notice right away. 

Some landlords will, for example, accept a partial payment of rent for $300.00 against a balance due to $1,000.00 leaving a new balance of $700.00 of past due rent. The landlord can immediately upon receipt of the partial payment, hand the tenant a new 3-day notice to pay rent for the $700.00 and that starts the clock over again for the new 3-day period.

How to Apply Partial Payments of Rent.

If the tenant pays a partial payment, the landlord must apply the payment to the month of rent specified by the tenant. If the tenant does not specify the period or month the payment is to be applied to, then the landlord may apply the payment to whatever month that he/she wants to. We recommend that if it’s the landlord’s choice, then the payment will be applied to the oldest month or obligation that is due first and then apply any remaining portion to the next oldest month or debt due.

How a Non-Paying Tenant ‘Cures’ the Notice

The non-paying tenant can make the situation right or “cure” it by paying the rent in full as soon as he receives the Three-Day Notice.

If a tenant doesn’t pay or tries to pay just part of what he owes and says he won’t move out, you can go ahead with the lawsuit to force the tenant out. This lawsuit is decided at an Unlawful Detainer hearing. If you win the lawsuit, the sheriff’s office will move the tenant and his things off your property.

If a tenant tries to pay part of his rent, you should not accept it if you want to continue with eviction procedures. Accepting partial payment nullifies the Three-Day Notice, and a judge will likely rule in a tenant’s favor if it goes to trial.

Should a landlord try to do the eviction on their own?

If you have prior experience with evicting tenants and you feel confident you know how to do it right the first time, by all means, go ahead. On the Express Evictions website, we have the latest eviction notices available for download in either PDF or Microsoft Word format here. It is important to use the latest notices because laws regarding notices to evict and how to serve papers can change.

But beware, if you don’t fill out of the Three-Day Notice perfectly, you can lose at the unlawful detainer hearing. The judge could order that a non-paying tenant not be evicted. Same thing with improperly serving the papers: If the papers aren’t served according to law, the landlord can lose the lawsuit. You would have to start a whole new Three-Day Notice/Unlawful Detainer action to get a non-paying tenant evicted.

And it’s not just that you could risk the continuing loss of rent. A judge has the option to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. What this means in practical terms is that the judge can order you, the landlord, to pay the delinquent tenant attorney fees if you lose the case! It seems unfair, but it’s the law in California.

It is very important to word the notice correctly and include in it all the points the law requires and then serve it correctly or the tenant can prevail at an unlawful detainer hearing. Follow all the rules.

Sometimes it costs a bit more to have an attorney prepare and serve the notice. But in other cases it can save landlords money because we at Express Evictions will cross all the t’s and dot the i’s correctly the first time, every time, so a tenant can’t turn around at the eviction hearing in court and say the notice did not include everything it should and/or it was served illegally.

If your Three-Day Notice is written and served according to the law, and you have the proof of delinquency (bank statements, correspondence, etc.) to present to the judge at the unlawful detainer hearing, you likely will prevail. You can evict the tenant, take the unpaid rent from the security deposit or get a judgment to pay from the judge and find a new, better tenant who will abide by the lease and pay the rent on time every month.

Our blog has some advice on how to screen for and do background checks so you get good, law-abiding tenants who pay on time and won’t wreck your property.

California 3-Day Eviction Notice Tenant Information

Sometimes, giving a tenant the option of living in your property, as the landlord, for 30 days or more simply is not an option. Unfortunately, many landlords get fed up with non-payments from tenants on rent and other miscellaneous fees, causing them to overreact and try their hardest to have the tenant evicted immediately. In the state of California, landlords may serve a Three-Day Notice allowing them to start the eviction process by filing the Unlawful Detainer in court for a tenant that does not pay up on late rent payments within the three-day notice period. The simple solution to all of this is to make sure that rent payments are sent to landlords on time to avoid the need for any type of eviction. However, you can also try to work with the legal system to keep your tenancy in good standing.

Why Did You Get a 3-Day Notice to Pay Rent? Landlords Have Bills too!

So, why are Three-Day Eviction Notices in California even necessary? Realize that many landlords make their sole income or part of their income off of your rent payments. If you do not pay up, they may not be able to make mortgage payments, utility payments, or some other type of payment. Three-day eviction notices may be the only way for them to pay someone else. Before you act out against the notices, remember that rent is your responsibility. Pay up and stay eviction-free.

Some landlords do not want to be hard-hearted in evicting a tenant but having one delinquent tenant can cut into the profit margin of an apartment complex in a major way. With today’s rents, landlords can lose $2,000 a month or more for a two-bedroom. That figure is just the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in California. Rents for bigger apartments or for apartments in pricey neighborhoods or for houses can be much more.

If a landlord knows a tenant is hard up for money or recently unemployed, talk to them before filing the Three-Day Notice. They may be able to make arrangements to pay the money soon. But if it looks like they are going to have trouble paying all of the rent, file the Three-Day Notice. You didn’t buy or build your rental properties to run a charity.

Talk to Your Landlord About the Notice – Pay and Stay? 

All landlords are different with each specific one handling cases in different ways. One landlord may allow a tenant to slide under the rent payment radar for a few months before issuing an eviction notice. Other landlords may require payment within just a few days of being late with a rent payment. Regardless, the Three-Day Notice for evictions in the state of California allows landlords to essentially force tenants to pay up on rent or risk being evicted off the property immediately and terminating the tenancy. If a tenant thinks the landlord’s notice is wrong after being served a Three-Day Notice to Evict, he can talk to the landlord, but keep in mind, if you don’t get things worked out then the landlord may take you to court and have the courts settle the situation.

Defenses to a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit

Landlords need to be aware of the tenant’s defenses to a 3-day notice to pay rent. There are several defenses as will be outlined below.

  • The first and most common defense by the tenant is that say they don’t owe the amount of rent due on the notice. You must be very careful not to overstate the amount of rent due. This mistake is made by landlords on a regular basis when the landlord doesn’t keep good accounting records. This is most likely to happen when the tenant has been paying partial payment throughout the month and the landlord loses track of what the tenant owes. Often, the landlord receives a payment and forgets to post it to the tenant’s balance then forgets about the payment and accidentally overstates the amount of rent due. If the landlord overstates the rent, even by 1 cent, then the Three- Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit is legally defective and the landlord will be forced with dismissing the Unlawful Detainer action or risk judgment in favor of the defendant. It is very important to make sure that the amount of rent due on the notice is accurate.
  • Habitability is one of the most common defenses to a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit the case. California law requires landlords to keep their rental units livable, according to minimum standards. One example is that the roofs, walls, windows, and doors must have weather protection and waterproofing. If a landlord fails to keep the unit livable according to the law, the tenant may legally withhold rent. If a landlord tries to evict for nonpayment under these circumstances, a tenant can use the uninhabitable defense.
  • A landlord cannot evict a tenant if a tenant takes steps within three days to fix a lease violation. If the landlord tries to evict a tenant who has corrected the violation, at the unlawful detainer hearing the tenant has a good chance of winning.
  • If a landlord tries an unlawful eviction by forcing the tenant out with threats of cutting the utilities or changing locks, this is illegal and a tenant can sue. The only legal way to evict a tenant in California is with a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit followed by an unlawful detainer hearing.
  • If a landlord improperly serves a tenant with a Three-Day Notice, the tenant can move for dismissal of the case. The laws on serving the notices in California are very precise and must be followed exactly. Often, the best way to make sure an eviction proceeds smoothly is to hire a lawyer who can get it all right the first time.

Why A Security Deposit Is Important

If a tenant agrees to move out upon receiving the notice but does not pay, you can take any rent he owes from the security deposit if the lease called for a deposit and the tenant paid one. If there is damage to your property or unpaid utility bills above and beyond the amount of the security deposit, you may not include that in a Three-Day Notice. You must file a separate lawsuit to get that money from tenants.

It is very important that you never include anything on the Notice to Pay Rent that is not past due rent. For example, you cannot add late charges or fees, utilities, trash, or water bills. If it’s not rent, then do not include it on your notice. Your accounting of the past due rent is of prime importance, so be careful.

The California law on evictions of residential tenants is available to read here. For more information on commercial evictions, see our Web page here. In general, residential tenants have more protection under the law than commercial tenants because it is assumed that residential tenants have less knowledge or less access to pay for expert help.
Be aware that about half of California renters are covered by rent-control ordinances. You need to research local ordinances to see if they affect eviction proceedings.

Many different types of notices are used in situations where tenants break terms of the lease (see here for details) or where the tenant has engaged in activities such as threatening the landlord, selling drugs on the property, committing waste or a nuisance to other tenants in the rental property. (see here for details).

Talk to Your Landlord About Your 3-Day Eviction Notice

All landlords are different with each specific one handling cases in different ways. One landlord may allow you to slide under the rent payment radar for a few months before issuing you an eviction notice, while others may require payment within just a few days of being late with a rent payment. Regardless, the three-day notice for evictions in the state of California allows landlords to essentially force you to pay up on rent or risk being evicted off the property immediately and terminating your tenancy. If a feel as a tenant the landlords notice is wrong after being served a 3-Day Eviction Notice, you can talk to the landlord, but keep in mind, if you don’t get things worked out then the landlord may take you to court and have the courts settle the situation.

If your a landlord and need assistance serving a 3 Day notice, don’t hesitate to contact us today.


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