If you are late with the rent, landlords in most states can immediately send you a termination notice for nonpayment of rent giving you a few days in which to pay up or move before the landlord can file for eviction. These are usually called "pay rent or quit" notices—you are given a few days to pay or move out (“quit”). If you do neither within the time limit, the landlord may then file an eviction lawsuit against you. The rules vary widely among states, including:
- How soon landlords may serve a pay rent or quit notice. While most states allow landlords to send the notice the first day the rent is late, a handful don’t let the landlord send the notice until you’re a certain number of days late.
- How the notice must be served. Some states require the landlord to serve the notice personally; most states allow mailing.
- How quickly you must pay the rent before the landlord can terminate the tenancy. In most states, landlords must give the tenant three to five days to pay up or face a termination. But some states don’t give you any time at all. Instead, if you fail to pay rent on time—even just once—the landlord can simply demand that you leave, with what’s called an "unconditional quit" notice.
- What happens if you’re late more than once. In many states, if you’re late with the rent a second or third time within a specified number of months, the landlord doesn’t have to give you the usual few days to pay—she can terminate the tenancy immediately, the moment the rent is late, with an unconditional quit notice.
Eviction itself—that is, physically throwing you and your possessions out of the property—can’t be done until the landlord has gone to court and proved that you’ve done something wrong (like not paying the rent) that justifies eviction. For a discussion of the eviction procedure, including time periods, negotiation strategies, and an overview of an eviction lawsuit, see Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (California residents, see California Tenants' Rights).