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Is there a time limit on collecting rent payments?

Question: I missed a rent payment, and my community supervisor served me with a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. The notice included the rent due and an additional $250. I asked the supervisor why the additional amount was included. He told me that when I missed the payment, his company accountant reviewed my payment records. As a result, he realized I had failed to pay the full amount of rent due in the first month after my rent was raised two years ago. Can the property management coerce me into paying this extra $250, after so much time?

Answer: California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161(2) limits the amount of past-due rent that can be collected with to a three-day notice to rent that was unpaid no more than one year before the notice. Since the total amount in the notice included unpaid rent from two years earlier, the entire notice is invalid and cannot be used as the basis for a subsequent unlawful detainer action seeking your eviction. The three-day notice would have to be served on you again, with the correct amount.

You are not, however, free from debt for the prior unpaid increase. Assuming you had a written rental agreement, and were properly notified of the increase, your landlord could deduct the unpaid amount from your security deposit and require you to restore that amount.

Alternatively, your landlord could file a claim against you in Small Claims Court for the $250. These other collection options are available to the landlord because the time limit to pursue a legal action for breach of a written agreement is four years.

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a nonprofit agency providing tenant-landlord and fair housing counseling. To submit a question, contact info@housing.org.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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