Eviction Notices for Nonpayment of Rent in California

When a tenant doesn't pay rent in California, the landlord can deliver a three-day notice to pay rent or quit.

By , Attorney

When a tenant fails to pay rent in California, the landlord can choose to terminate the tenancy and evict the tenant if necessary—as long as the landlord follows the correct procedures.

When Rent Is Due in California

Most leases and rental agreements require tenants to pay rent on the first day of every month, even if the first of the month is a weekend or holiday. Under California law, landlords aren't required to give tenants a grace period before charging a late fee or taking steps to terminate the tenancy.

However, there's no law preventing landlords from having rent due on another day of the month or giving tenants a grace period for paying rent. For example, a lease or rental agreement could state that if the first of the month is a holiday, rent will be due the next business day. Or a lease or rental agreement could require the landlord to wait three days after the rent due date before assessing a late fee. All arrangements between landlords and tenants should be written into a lease or rental agreement signed by both parties.

California Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit

As soon as the rent is late (and the grace period, if any, has passed), the landlord can give the tenant a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. The notice must inform the tenant that if the tenant does not pay rent or move out within three days of receiving the notice, then the landlord will begin eviction proceedings against the tenant. (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(2) (2022).)

Information Required in the Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit

The three-day notice to pay rent or quit must be written and include the following information:

  • the amount of rent due
  • information about how and where the rent payment should be made (for example, the name and address of a person who can receive it or the details of a financial account it can be paid to)
  • date the demand was served on the tenant
  • name and address of tenant, and
  • a statement that the tenant owes rent and must pay it within three days or the landlord will file an eviction lawsuit with the court.

(Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1161(2) (2022).)

How a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit Must be Delivered

A landlord can deliver a three-day notice to pay rent or quit through:

  • Personal delivery. The landlord can personally hand the notice to the tenant at either the rental unit or the tenant's place of business.
  • Delivery to a third party and mailing. If the landlord can't find the tenant at the rental or the tenant's place of business, the landlord can give the notice to someone of suitable age at either the rental unit or the tenant's place of business. If the landlord uses this option, the landlord must also mail a copy of the notice to the tenant.
  • Posting. If neither the tenant nor someone of suitable age can be found to personally give the notice to, then the landlord can post the notice in a conspicuous place on the property, such as the front door of the rental unit. The landlord must also mail a copy of the notice to the tenant.

(Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1162(a) (2022).)

Tenant Options After Receiving a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit

A tenant could respond to the three-day notice in a variety of different ways.

  • The tenant could pay the rent within three days of receiving the notice. If the tenant chooses this do this, the landlord can't proceed with the eviction.
  • The tenant could move out of the rental unit within three days of receiving the notice. If the tenant does not pay rent, the landlord can use the security deposit to cover the rent charges and sue the tenant for any unpaid amounts of rent.
  • The tenant could choose to not pay rent or move out of the rental unit. The landlord can proceed with the eviction at the end of the three-day period.

The Eviction Lawsuit

California landlords can't take self-help measures—such as changing locks or turning off electricity—to get tenants to move out. Rather, after giving the proper notice to terminate the tenancy, the landlord must file an "unlawful detainer" (eviction) lawsuit. To start the unlawful detainer suit, the landlord must file a summons and complaint with the superior court of the county or district in which the rental unit is located. The court will set a date for a hearing before a judge, and the landlord must serve the tenant with the court paperwork (a summons and a complaint).

To serve the tenant, the landlord can:

  • hire a professional process server to deliver the documents directly to the tenant
  • have the process server deliver the documents to someone at the tenant's home or work and mail a copy to the tenant, or
  • post a copy at the tenant's home and mail a copy to the tenant.

The tenant has five days (or 15, if they aren't served in person) to respond to the summons and complaint. If the tenant responds, a judge will hear both sides of the story at the hearing. If the tenant doesn't respond, the landlord can ask the judge for a "default judgment," in which the court will issue an order—called a writ of possession—giving the landlord the right to reenter the rental.

When both the tenant and landlord show up for a hearing, most courts will require the parties to mediate the dispute to try to reach a settlement. If that's unsuccessful, the judge will decide whether the tenant gets to stay in the rental or the landlord is entitled to a writ of possession.

The only legal way to evict a tenant is for a landlord to use a writ of possession to hire the sheriff or another law enforcement officer to physically remove the tenant and the tenant's belongings. If a landlord attempts to illegally evict a tenant, the tenant can sue the landlord for damages.

Additional California Eviction Resources

The California court system has detailed information about evictions online. Nolo also offers a book on California tenant rights, an eviction guide book for California landlords, and a book on California landlords' rights and responsibilities.

Low-income individuals might qualify for reduced-cost or free legal assistance.

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