Basic Rent Rules

Grace Periods

Many tenants are absolutely convinced that if they pay by the 5th (or sometimes the 7th or even the 10th) of the month, they have legally paid their rent on time and should suffer no penalty because they are within a legal grace period. Some states give tenants a grace period, but not California. Quite simply, there is no law in California that gives tenants a five-day or any other grace period when it comes to paying the rent. A landlord can legally proceed with the first step necessary to evict a tenant— serving a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit— the day after the rent is legally due but unpaid. In practice, most tenants get a grace period, because landlords usually don’t get upset about late rent until it’s more than a few days late, and many rental agreements and leases do not begin assessing the tenant late charges until at least five days after the due date. But you are definitely within your legal rights to insist that the rent be paid on the day it is due.

Rent from Third Parties

Some landlords refuse rent payment from third parties worried that accepting rent from a nontenant will give that payer status as a tenant; or that a requirement to accept third-party rent might mean that they will also have to accept Section 8 vouchers (landlords are not required by state law to accept Section 8; local jurisdictions can vary that rule).

As of January 1, 2019, a new law in California requires landlords to accept rent payments from some third parties, as long as the rent-payer follows certain procedures. (Calif. Civil Code Sec. 1947.3.) Landlords may ask the payer to sign a statement, acknowledging that the payer is not a tenant and that the payment does not bestow any tenant rights on the payer. The landlord can demand this written acknowledgment every time the payer offers rent (or the landlord can agree that a one-time acknowledgment will suffice). The new law specifically states that it does not require landlords to accept Section 8.

Late Charges

A common and effective way to encourage tenants to pay the rent on time is to impose a late charge or fee. You may safely do so only if your fee closely approximates your real losses, and only if your lease or rental agreement includes a sentence like this one:

Because Landlord and Tenant agree that actual damages for late rent payments are very difficult or impossible to determine, Landlord and Tenant agree to the following stated late charge as liquidated damages in the amount of 4% of the monthly rent.

Accepting Partial Payment After a Three-Day Notice

If your tenant doesn’t pay rent, you may serve them with a three-day notice to pay the rent in full or quit. If your tenant responds with less than the amount stated in the notice, you can either refuse to accept the partial payment or accept the lesser amount and serve a new three-day notice demanding the balance. You probably cannot accept the partial payment and base an eviction lawsuit on the original three-day notice. This is simply because the law requires that in any eviction lawsuit you file, the rent that’s past due as of the date of filing must be the same as the rent demanded in the three-day notice.