Generally, landlords do not look forward to initiating eviction proceedings against incompliant tenants, often preferring to explore other means of resolution. However, certain tenancy situations call for more stringent measures, like the initiation of eviction proceedings. One of such situations that might lead to an eviction claim is the non-payment of rent. All state laws allow landlords to initiate eviction proceedings (unlawful detainer lawsuit) against tenants that have failed to pay rent. In most states, however, a landlord must first serve the tenant with a notice to pay or quit.
A Notice to Pay or Quit is a legal document that a landlord issues as a formal notification to a tenant.
The notice requests the tenant to pay the rent by a certain date or take leave of the property. In addition, these notices give the tenant a short grace period, usually ranging from three days to two weeks, depending on the state. While most states in the US require this notice to be served before the eviction process can be initiated, some states do not have this requirement.
What Happens if a Tenant Doesn’t Pay?
Failure to pay one month’s rent is not enough grounds for eviction in many states. Instead, a landlord can correspond with the tenant through phone, email, or letter, prompting them to pay the rent within this period. A notice to pay or quit is usually reserved for tenants who are recurrently late in paying rent, usually two months or more.
Each state specifies different requirements on how much notice a tenant is entitled to. Notice periods required by states range from three days (in states like New Mexico and Iowa) to as many as 14 days (e.g., New York and Vermont).
Suppose a tenant fails to make rent payment and does not vacate the property within the grace period given in the notice. In that case, the landlord has the right to terminate the rental agreement and initiate an eviction proceeding. It is advised that the landlord carry out a proper review of the associated state laws regarding evictions, either personally or through an attorney, before initiating an eviction proceeding.
Something tenants generally have in common is a responsibility to pay rent. A landlord-tenant agreement specifies the details about rent payment (details like the amount, mode of payment, and due date), and these details are specific to each tenancy agreement. When a rent payment issue comes up, the tenancy agreement and the applicable rental laws of the area where the property is located bind both parties.
Notice periods to pay or quit
For tenants that do not have a history of late payment, landlords can send a Late Rent Notice as a reminder to pay while also indicating applicable late fees. For tenants that remain non-compliant after a Late Rent Notice, or tenants that have been late on payment on multiple occasions, it is within the landlord’s rights to send a notice to pay or quit to the tenant.
In addition, the landlord is advised to keep a detailed record of all correspondence with the tenant on issues relating to the rental, as this can serve as helpful evidence in court during an eviction proceeding.
Late rent grace period
If included in a rental agreement, a grace period is a provision that allows the tenant to make rent payment within a specified period after the actual due date without paying a late fee. It is not the default right of the tenant to be awarded a grace period unless such provision has been stated in the rental agreement or has been mandated by state law.
Therefore, landlords should stay up to date on grace period provisions (if any) embedded in state laws to avoid taking actions that would later jeopardize any court proceeding.
Maximum late rent fees
While there are no specific limits set in many states for late fees on late rent payments, the state laws often use the term “reasonable” or “fair” when referring to the amount to charge for late fees. Most courts consider a charge of five percent of the rent as reasonable, and some set a fixed dollar amount that is usually not more than five percent of the rent. If a late fee is payable for late rent, the landlord must specify this on the rental agreement.
What Should a Landlord Avoid?
Landlords are legally required to abide by the Federal Fair Housing Act and any additional fair housing legislation provided by the applicable state. Landlords, generally, do not look forward to court eviction processes primarily due to the time and cost implications and therefore are sometimes tempted to take laws into their hands.
This usually comes with grave consequences for the landlord, as specific unsanctioned actions can prompt legal action from the tenant. The paragraphs below specify some actions a landlord should avoid taking in a case of non-payment of rent.
Housing laws usually prohibit landlords from carrying out a self-help eviction. Self-help eviction is when a landlord repossesses a property or ejects a tenant without going through the proper legal process. Any attempt by a landlord to force a tenant out of the property through intimidation, coercion, or worsening living conditions is illegal and can result in the landlord facing legal actions.
Landlords should avoid taking actions that constitute harassment, like physical or verbal threats or entering a tenant’s property without approval, or actions that violate the state’s warranty of habitability, like shutting off utilities.
In states where a notice to pay or quit is required to be served to the tenant, if such notice is not served or not served under the law, court eviction proceedings may not be successful, and the whole process may have to be reinitiated from scratch.
There should also be consistency in the grace period a landlord affords each tenant. Not giving the same amount of grace period to tenants under the same circumstances might present as bias, and that might be an issue in court.
During actual eviction proceedings, landlords often mistake not having sufficient evidence to back their claim for eviction. For example, bank statements, records of communications referencing the unsettled rent, etc., should back an eviction claim due to non-payment of rent. All forms of communications and interactions (calls, emails, physical contacts) with the tenant should be properly documented and organized.
Records of past payment patterns (dates, amounts, means of payments, other fees, etc.) should also be properly kept. Not presenting appropriate evidence in court can lead to a tenant, who otherwise should have been evicted, staying in the property.
Things to be Included in the Notice to Pay/Quit
Requirements in each state for what details should make up a notice to pay or quit differ. However, standard information that should be present include:
- The date the notice is issued
- A clear title, written in bold, details the notice’s purpose and the applicable grace period. For example, “THREE-DAY NOTICE TO QUIT FOR NONPAYMENT OF RENT.”
- A written statement that explicitly communicates to the tenant the number of days they have to pay rent or vacate the property
- Tenant’s name, as recorded on the rental agreement
- Address where the rental property is located
- Amount of rent due and which part of the rental agreement the tenant has violated
- Any applicable late fee
- A statement explaining the consequence of noncompliance with the notice
- Mode of rent payment
- Name of the landlord
- Landlord’s signature
How to Send a Notice?
When a landlord fails to meticulously follow proper procedures, a technicality arising from this mistake might stall or stop the eviction process, sometimes having to compel the landlord to reinitiate the whole process from scratch.
An example of such technicality is the issuance of a three-day notice where a ten-day notice is required. In this instance, the landlord may be faced with the right violation. Therefore, landlords are always advised to peruse and adhere to the eviction guidelines provided by local housing laws.
Download notice to quit
With a template in hand, drafting a notice to pay or quit is relatively easy. Form templates for this type of notice can be downloaded online or sometimes obtainable from the local housing court. For drafting one from scratch, a landlord can secure the services of an attorney or a designated service provider. This can be retained as a template for future use.
Fill in the information
The landlord should pay extra attention when filling out the notice. Any incorrect or omitted information might invalidate the notice and make it unacceptable to the court. If this happens, the tenant will remain legally on the property while the court mandates the landlord to resend the notice correctly. To ensure that no crucial information is left out, the landlord should use one of the notice templates or forms that has been provided on this page.
Detail how much is owed by the tenant
The notice should feature the amount of rent the tenant owes, along with the due date and month and any late fees for each unpaid rent. The landlord should indicate the total amount owed at the end of the list. The notice should also feature details on how the tenant can make payment.
Mention the time frame to deposit the dues
After a landlord serves a tenant a notice to pay or quit, the tenant must make rent payment within the specified period in the notice. If it is a three-day notice to pay or quit, the tenant must make rent payment within three days. If the tenant makes payment within the notice period, the breach of the rental agreement has been cured, and the tenant cannot be evicted for that reason.
The tenant may offer part payment of the rent, and it is within the landlord’s discretion to accept or not. For example, suppose the landlord accepts part payment of the rent from the tenant with a promise of a future completion of payment. In that case, the landlord cannot subsequently start an eviction process without issuing another notice to pay or quit.
Append your signatures
A space for Proof/Certificate of Service information is usually present at the tail end of a notice to pay or quit. The landlord should append the signature and date in this section. However, he may momentarily leave the method used to serve as blank. The reason for this is not to restrict delivery to a single method until the landlord has verified the method to be feasible.
Deliver the notice
The method of serving notices to tenants varies per state. Some states mandate that the notice to pay or quit should be served in person, some allow the use of mail or posting the notice on the door to the apartment, while some require that a state marshal serve the notice.
A landlord must verify the requirements of the laws of the state where the property is located. Irregularities in delivery requirements can serve as a defense for the tenant in court.
Ultimately, the primary objective of a notice to pay or quit is to make the tenant pay an outstanding method to rent or vacate a property without the need for further legal actions. It is usually in the best interest of both parties if rental issues are settled without court proceedings.
On the landlord’s part, court proceedings can be stressful, take time, and can cost money. On the part of the tenant, a court-ordered eviction could negatively affect their ability to lease an apartment in the future.