Consequences of Paying Rent Late in California

Paying rent late in California can cost you money--and possibly your tenancy.

Your lease or rental agreement and California state law are the key places to look for answers to this question. Basically, if you pay rent late, you may be hit with a late fee and possibly face the termination of your tenancy. To avoid problems, know when your rent is due and pay it on time.

Read the Rent and Termination Clauses in Your Lease or Rental Agreement

Look for a clause called Payment of Rent, or something similar. Basically, you want to find out the following:

  • the date that rent is due—this is usually the first of the month (and this is the date the landlord receives your rent payment, not the date that the envelope with your mailed rent check is postmarked)
  • what happens if the first of the month falls on a weekend or holiday (your lease may give you until the next business day to pay rent)
  • whether or not you have a grace period before rent is considered late, and
  • whether or not your landlord will charge you a late fee (and how much) if you don’t pay rent on time. In California, late fees will only be enforced if your lease or rental agreement includes specified language, such as this: 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. Also, any late fee must be reasonable--that is, corresponds to the landlord’s actual monetary consequences of getting rent late. (See Orozco v. Casimiro, 212 Cal.App.4th Supp. 7 (2004).)

You’ll also want to check what your lease says regarding the landlord’s right to terminate your entire tenancy if you pay rent late. Unfortunately, many lease and rental agreements don’t spell this out, but simply include a general clause called something like Grounds for Termination of Tenancy, that states that if you fail to comply with a term of your agreement the landlord may terminate your tenancy under rules and procedures required by law. Read on to find out what these rules and procedures are in California.

Understand Tenant Rights Under California Laws on Termination for Nonpayment of Rent

Under state law in California (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(2)), your landlord may send you a nonpayment of rent notice the day after rent is due, giving you three days to pay rent or leave; if you do neither, your landlord can file a lawsuit to evict you.

More Information on Tenant Rent Rights in California

For details on other California rent-related laws, such as bounced check fees, rent control rules, and the amount of notice a landlord must give to raise the rent, see the Nolo article on California rent rules. And if you simply can’t pay rent on time, consider other options, such as trying to negotiate a partial rent payment. See the Nolo article What to Do and Not to Do if You Can’t Pay Rent on Time for advice.

Finally, keep in mind that you if you constantly pay rent late, and you have a month-to-month rental agreement, your landlord may decide to simply terminate your tenancy with the required amount of notice (30 or 60 days in California), rather than deal with the hassle of regularly sending you late rent notices. And even if your landlord does not terminate your tenancy, don’t expect a great reference from your current landlord when you move on to a new apartment.

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