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Rental Agreement--Conflicting/Ambiguous

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Clauses like this are common in leases, and while admittedly a little difficult to parse, once sorted out they are not ambiguous. There are two separate rights being asserted here by the LLs:

1) The right to collect rent on the first of the month, and to make a written demand for rent at anytime thereafter. Written demand is the first step a LL would take to evict. The first and third sentences you quote are therefore telling you that, the issue of late fees aside, your rent is always late when you don't pay by the first, i.e. that you materially breach your lease agreement whenever you don't pay by the first, and the LLs are free, starting on the second, to begin eviction proceedings if they wish.

2) The right to collect a late fee if rent is paid after the third of the month. Late fees in leases are legal, but must be used only as a way to compensate the LL for damages suffered when payment is late (e.g. for interest that would have been earned). Late fees may not be excessive, nor are they meant as a punitive measure to force tenants to pay on time. Every state has different rules on reasonable amounts for late fees. Regardless of whether a late fee is reasonable, though, a clause like the second sentence quoted here is an agreement to compensate the LLs for financial harm suffered when the rent is paid late. This agreement is separate and in addition to the agreement that rent must be paid by the first.

Needless to say, if you wish to avoid exposing yourself to any risk of eviction for nonpayment, you're much better off paying by the first of the month.

The crux of your question seemed to be around the second issue. It seems you're essentially asking at what time on the third of the month the late fee provision kicks in. Here the answer is less clear; you may be best served by speaking with your LLs and establishing a clear arrangement. The other option would be to contest the assessment of the fee in court, where your prior payment history might or might not be seen to establish an agreement regarding payment after business hours on the third.

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Hello. I live in San Francisco, CA and would appreciate your help interpreting the verbiage in my rental agreement as it pertains to late fee assessment. The following verbiage seems somewhat conflicting and possibly open to interpretation.

"Rent is due in advance on the FIRST day of each and every month.... If rent is paid after the THIRD of the month, there will be a late charge of 10% OF THE MONTHLY RENT assessed. The late charge period IS NOT a grace period and the Owner/Agent is entitled to make written demand for any rent not paid when due."

Additional info:

- Three landlord/owners reside separately on site; effective this month (after 7 years of my residence), the primary responsibility for handling rent payments moved from "Landlord A"to "Landlord B".

-A rent check was submitted to Landlord B (slid underneath the door to his residence, as was done previously with Landlord A) on Sept. 3, at approximately 10:00 PM

-I received a note from Landlord B indicating I owe the additional 10% late fee as "the rent was due on the 1st. Today is the 4th."

-In the 7 years of my residence, there were frequent occasions where I submitted the rent check to Landlord A in the evening hours of the 2nd or 3rd day of the month. Late fees were not assessed .

Is the verbiage in the rental contract self-conflicting, or is it fairly straightforward, making the assessment of the late fee clearly justified in the situation I described? Is there any foundation for a precedent from the payment history that would render the late fee invalidate?

Any input that can be provided will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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Unless the lease dictates exact protocol and that it must be received between the hours of X and Y, you're free to dispute the late fee and advise the landlord in writing -- politely. And I'd send it to whomever's listed on your lease -- that may not be B, by the way. Your lease presumably says there's no amendment in terms unless both parties sign and you're free to stick to who is listed even if it seems unreasonable (if it lists A you send to A and let him-her pass along to B). Anyway, it's not your problem if the guy wasn't home at 10:00 p.m. to notice the payment if lease is silent on the issue of when.

The contract language isn't conflicting though.

Yes, I agree with Mod that you should start paying your rent on the first -- or, gasp, on the last day of the month/before the first -- just to avoid the hassle.

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Thank you to both the Findlaw Moderator and Guest for your insight on this matter. Both replies were quite informative and will help me in addressing the topic with my landlord.

Thanks!

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