Eviction Notice: 3 Day Pay Or Quit

Explanation of the Three Day Notice to Pay Rent Or Quit

By Michael Balian Founder and principal, End Eviction @Mike_Balian

3 Day Notice

Served for non-payment of rent, or delinquent rent, a 3 day pay or quit eviction notice is the first step in the eviction process. These notices have many different names: “3 day pay or quit;” “3 day pay or vacate;” “3 day notice to pay or quit;” but is formally called a “three (3) day notice to pay rent or quit.”

If you’re wondering what a notice like this means, this article discusses the cause, process, and legal consequences that a 3 day pay or quit notice involves.

In this article, we discuss:

WHAT IS A 3 DAY EVICTION NOTICE?

A three day notice to pay rent or quit is obviously served when a tenant does not pay rent, or does not pay rent on time. Effectively, a “default” in rent. It’s triggered when a tenant misses the rent payment due date, usually due on the first of the month. The landlord then serves a 3 day notice. If there is a “grace period” stated in the lease agreement, landlords may hold off on serving a notice until after that grace period runs. The notice is not only to inform the tenant about the delinquent rent but is also the first step in the legal eviction process.

Basically, the notice demands precisely what it sounds like… “Pay rent or move out in three days!” If a tenant, within three days, pays the full amount of rent that’s in default, or moves out, the notice is satisfied. A landlord cannot legally file an eviction case if a tenant has complied with the notice.

    TIP:
  1. Obviously, if paying the past-due rent is not an option, it’s almost impossible for any tenant/household to move within three days. However, the landlord cannot immediately remove a tenant, but must follow the eviction process.
  2. If a landlord accepts any partial payment, the current notice is thereby voided. Then, a new 3-day notice will need to be served for any remaining balance/delinquent rent.
  3. CAUTION: some tenants who have established payment of rent by direct deposit or electronic method attempt to pay late or partial rent after expiration of the 3 day notice by said methods, without the landlords knowledge, thinking its an "acceptance" of rent by the landlord. It’s not. The landlord has several weeks after discovering the payment to decline and refund the late payment. What this means is that the tenant will still be evicted, but will have the payment tied up in the refund process for that time.

WHY IS A 3 DAY NOTICE SERVED?

Any time a tenant in California is late, or does not pay rent, a landlord usually serves a 3 day notice. A notice must be in writing and must be formally "served" in order to later initiate an eviction action (see unlawful detainer) in court. A landlord can’t just evict and remove (i.e. lockout) a tenant without first obtaining an eviction order (see writ of possession), which is actually permission from court for removal.

The 3-Day notice is later used in the eviction lawsuit and attached to the initial complaint for unlawful detainer. A written 3 day notice served on a tenant is a prerequisite to filing an eviction. The notice is attached to the unlawful detainer complaint to show the court that the tenant was notified, in writing, that rent was delinquent and the legally required time of three (3) days was given to comply. To succeed in an unlawful detainer case, a landlord must show that the tenant was aware, formally notified (served in writing), and failed to comply with the 3 day notice.

LEGAL REQUIREMENTS: CALIFORNIA LAW REQUIRES 3 DAYS’ NOTICE

Is a 3 day eviction notice legal in California?

The answer is “yes.” Three days is the minimum legally required period of time that must be provided on a 3 day eviction notice for non-payment of rent in California.

The specific legal requirements governing a 3 day notice for non-payment of rent is found in California Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) §1161(2).

CCP §1161 states:

“A tenant of real property, for a term less than life, or the executor or administrator of his or her estate heretofore qualified and now acting or hereafter to be qualified and act, is guilty of unlawful detainer:

[…]

2. When he or she continues in possession, in person or by subtenant, without the permission of his or her landlord, or the successor in estate of his or her landlord, if applicable, after default in the payment of rent, pursuant to the lease or agreement under which the property is held, and three days’ notice, excluding Saturdays and Sundays and other judicial holidays, in writing, requiring its payment, stating the amount which is due, the name, telephone number, and address of the person to whom the rent payment shall be made, and, if payment may be made personally, the usual days and hours that person will be available to receive the payment (provided that, if the address does not allow for personal delivery, then it shall be conclusively presumed that upon the mailing of any rent or notice to the owner by the tenant to the name and address provided, the notice or rent is deemed received by the owner on the date posted, if the tenant can show proof of mailing to the name and address provided by the owner), or the number of an account in a financial institution into which the rental payment may be made, and the name and street address of the institution (provided that the institution is located within five miles of the rental property), or if an electronic funds transfer procedure has been previously established, that payment may be made pursuant to that procedure, or possession of the property, shall have been served upon him or her and if there is a subtenant in actual occupation of the premises, also upon the subtenant.”

The key provisions of law that require a 3 day notice are highlighted above.

In short, a written 3 day notice must be served on a tenant prior to initiating an eviction lawsuit (otherwise known as “unlawful detainer”). As we previously learned, the tenant must be notified, in writing, that there is a default in rent, and provided a minimum of three (3) days to comply with the notice.

To recap its requirements, a 3 day notice must:

  • Be in writing;
  • Indicate a default in rent;
  • Indicate the amount in default;
  • Require payment or possession of the property;
  • Provide a minimum of three days’ notice;
  • Be served on a tenant.


A 3 DAY NOTICE DOES NOT NEED TO BE COURT FILED BEFORE IT IS SERVED

Frequently, tenants served a 3 day notice ask why the “Notice” is not court-stamped and/or filed with court. Some people think a notice must first be filed with court before it is served on a tenant. This is a common inaccuracy. For any type of eviction, notice need not be filed before it is served. The notice is required to be in writing, as indicated in CCP §1161(2) above, but is not required to be filed prior to serving on a tenant. The requirement is that a landlord must serve a written notice prior to filing an eviction case (unlawful detainer). Service of notice is a legal prerequisite to filing an eviction lawsuit. Later, the 3-day notice is attached to the unlawful detainer complaint as proof that it was given in writing, and proof of its service is either attached in witing, or "alleged" in the complaint. A landlord cannot prevail in an eviction case if written notice is not first served.

HOW AN EVICTION NOTICE MUST BE SERVED

A written 3 day notice to pay or quit must be served on a tenant, demanding past due rent, prior to filing an eviction lawsuit.

For residential tenancies, the laws regarding service of notice can be found in CCP §1162(a).

CCP §1162(a) states:

“Except as provided in subdivision (b), the notices required by Sections 1161 and 1161a may be served by any of the following methods:

(1) By delivering a copy to the tenant personally.

(2) If he or she is absent from his or her place of residence, and from his or her usual place of business, by leaving a copy with some person of suitable age and discretion at either place, and sending a copy through the mail addressed to the tenant at his or her place of residence.

(3) If such place of residence and business cannot be ascertained, or a person of suitable age or discretion there can not be found, then by affixing a copy in a conspicuous place on the property, and also delivering a copy to a person there residing, if such person can be found; and also sending a copy through the mail addressed to the tenant at the place where the property is situated. Service upon a subtenant may be made in the same manner.”

The key provisions of law that require service of notice are highlighted above.

Basically, there are three ways a notice must be served:

  1. By personal service (handing it personally to the tenant);
  2. By substituted service (leaving it with another person of suitable age in the household);
  3. By “post and mail” (posting a copy on the premises and mailing it to the tenant).

    TIP:
  1. Some tenants assume they were not served if they do not take (or touch) a personally served notice. This is a fatal assumption. As long as the notice is presented, and the person serving makes contact (i.e. directly communicates) making the tenant aware of the notice, this can still be considered “personal” service.
  2. Most landlords simply tape the notice on the front door and do not attempt to serve any other way.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET A 3 DAY EVICTION NOTICE

Once a written notice for a 3 day notice to pay rent or quit is served, the three-day timeclock starts to countdown. For more information on calculating notice period expiration, check out our section on How to Calculate the Expiration Date of a Three Day Notice.

If a tenant plans on paying the defaulted rent, or move out, it must be done prior to expiration of the three days. Otherwise, the landlord can proceed with an unlawful detainer action in court.

During the notice three-day notice period (before expiration), a landlord is not obligated to accept a payment less than the whole amount of rent in default. However, the landlord must accept a payment if it is the entire amount in default.

After the three days has expired, a landlord is not obligated to accept any monies, and can choose to evict the tenant. At this point, its up to the landlord to decide whether to accept a payment or file an eviction.

If the tenant is unable to comply with the notice (either pay rent in full or move out), and the landlord later files an eviction, the tenant can expect to be served a summons and complaint for unlawful detainer.

Can A Landlord Evict You In 3 Days?

In California, a landlord can serve a 3 day eviction notice, but cannot “evict” a tenant in three days. Here, “Evict” meaning “Removal.” A landlord cannot remove a tenant after the three days a notice is served. Law enforcement, usually the county sheriff, is the only authorized agency to act on orders from court to lawfully remove a tenant from a property. The only way a landlord can obtain the authority to request the sheriff remove a tenant is by filing an unlawful detainer in court and obtaining a judgment for possession of the property.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF (If You Paid, Or Attempted To Pay, Your Rent)

Sadly, there are times when landlords resort to underhanded practices aimed to unethically evict a tenant. For example, the tenant attempts to pay the rent on the due date, or during the 3 day notice period, and the landlord refuses to accept the rent. The landlord is obviously declining to accept rent to entrap the tenant for not paying rent. The landlord does not accept rent, then serves a three day notice for non-payment of rent. Eventually, the landlord files and serves an unlawful detainer eviction.

If your landlord does not accept the rent, make sure to document your interactions and the way in which you attempted to pay the rent.

The best way to prove payment of rent is to obtain a cashier’s check or money order. These types of checks cannot be refuted even in a court of law, and show that you attempted to pay the rent when due, or during the three day notice period.

Make photocopies of the cashier’s check or money order before detaching any stubs. Photocopies will protect you if the landlord takes your check and destroys it, or if it gets lost.

Other types of payment methods, like cash or personal check are hard to prove, unless you receive a signed receipt. But, signed receipts are still not as concrete as a cashier’s check or money order issued from a financial institution. A cashier’s check for the amount of rent due (or in default) with the issue date printed on the check, is a straightforward way to prove you attempted to pay the rent on time.

The cashier’s check or money order, or photocopies of either, can be later used in court to defend against a wrongful eviction for non-payment of rent.

HOW TO STOP EVICTION NOTICE

Once a three day notice for rent is served, a tenant has the following options to stop eviction notice:
  1. Pay the full amount of rent;
  2. Move out;
  3. Arrange a payment or move-out plan with the landlord;
  4. If unable to accomplish either of the three options above, wait to be served an unlawful detainer.

There is no legal procedure to directly stop an eviction notice. However, there are several alternatives to stop eviction when it reaches the court (unlawful detainer) phase.

    TIP:
  1. Make sure to obtain any arrangements formally in writing, signed by the landlord.
  2. Verbal agreements can backfire because they can be difficult to prove, particularly if the landlord does not admit it was made.


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