Question: My landlord and I have always had a positive relationship, but of late he has been changing the nature of our rent payment dates.
We have never had a written lease or rental agreement, and I always paid rent when I got paid. I pay every month, though on different days, and have never missed a monthly rental payment.
Now, after seven years, my landlord has called and said he wants the rent paid in full by the first of every month. Can he do this after accepting rent payments based on my work payment schedule for more than seven years? And isn’t there a grace period for monthly rental payments anyway?
Answer: You have touched on what is one of the oddest features of rent payments in California.
Most written agreements specify the date rent is due and also stipulate that most rent payments are due at the beginning of the month. The overwhelming majority of rental agreements and leases in California make rent due on the first of the month or within the first five days of the month.
Your situation is an important exception, when there is nothing in writing specifying the rental payment date.
The California Civil Code (1947) states: “When there is no usage or contract to the contrary, rents are payable at the termination of the holding, when it does not exceed one year. If the holding is by the day, week, month, quarter or year, rent is payable at the termination of the respective periods, as it successively becomes due.”
This means that it can be that rent is due at the end of the rental period rather than in advance of the rental period.
If you have never had anything in writing specifying that rent needs to be paid in advance, then you might consider showing your landlord this civil code section, providing that rent is due at the end of the rental period (monthly, in this case).
There is one important caveat. Because you have a month-to-month agreement, your landlord could issue a written 30-day change of terms of tenancy stating that 30 days after the issue of this notice, rent will become due and payable on the first of each month.
However, there is no automatic grace period in the California Civil Code in the absence of any written stipulation giving a tenant a grace period for paying rent. A generous landlord might allow you a couple of days grace (written or oral), but it is not legally required to grant a grace period.
Van Deursen is director of Dispute Resolution Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit.