Suppose that your landlord properly serves you a three-day notice because you haven’t paid the rent. You must either pay the full amount of rent that is due or vacate (leave) the rental unit by the end of the third day, unless you have a legal basis for not paying rent.
If you decide to pay the rent that is due, it’s best to call the landlord or the landlord’s agent immediately. Tell the landlord or agent that you intend to pay the amount demanded in the notice (if it is correct) and arrange for a time and location where you can deliver the payment to the landlord or agent. You must pay the rent by the end of the third day. You should pay the unpaid rent by cashier’s check, money order, or cash. Whatever the form of payment, be sure to get a receipt signed by the landlord or agent that shows the date and the amount of the payment.
The landlord normally cannot require that you pay the unpaid rent in cash.
If the amount of rent demanded is not correct, it’s essential that you discuss this with the landlord or agent immediately, and offer to pay the amount that is actually due. Make this offer orally and in writing, and keep a copy of the written offer. The landlord’s notice is not legally effective if it demands more rent than is actually due, or if it includes any charges other than for past-due rent (for example, late charges, unpaid utility charges, dishonored check fees, or interest).288
If the amount of rent demanded is correct and doesn’t include any other charges, and if you decide not to pay, then you and any other occupants should move out promptly.
If you stay beyond the three days without paying the rent that is properly due, you will be occupying the rental unit unlawfully. The landlord then has a single, powerful remedy: a court action to evict you and recover the unpaid rent (called an “unlawful detainer [eviction] lawsuit”. Your failure to pay the rent and to leave promptly may also become part of your credit history, which could affect your ability to rent from other landlords.
If the three-day notice is based on something other than failure to pay rent, the notice will state whether you can correct the problem and remain in the rental unit. If the problem can be corrected and you want to stay in the rental unit, you must correct the problem by the end of the third day. Once you have corrected the problem, you should promptly notify the landlord or the property manager.
Even if the notice does not state that you can correct the problem, you can try to persuade the landlord that you will correct the problem and be a good tenant if the landlord agrees to your staying. If the landlord agrees, keep your promise immediately. The landlord should then waive (forgive) your violation, and you should be able to stay in the rental unit. However, in the event of another violation, the landlord probably will serve you with another three-day notice, or with a 30- day or 60-day notice.
If you believe that the landlord has acted unlawfully in giving you a three-day notice, or that you have a valid defense to an unlawful detainer lawsuit, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of contesting the landlord’s likely eviction lawsuit against you if you don’t move out. As part of your decision-making process, you may wish to consult with a lawyer, legal aid organization, tenant-landlord program, or housing clinic.
How to count the three days
Begin counting the three days on the first day after the day the notice was served. If the third day falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, the three-day period will not expire until the following Monday or non holiday.289
288 Brown, Warner and Portman, The California Landlord’s Law Book, Vol. I: Rights & Responsibilities, pages 314-315 (NOLO Press 2009).
289 Code of Civil Procedure Sections 12,12a.