Landlord Requiring Rent Payments To Be Mailed As The Exclusive Method of Payment Bears The Risk That The Payment Will Be Lost In The Mail

In SLEEP EZ v. Mateo (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th Supp. 1, decided on April 4, 2017, an apartment landlord brought and unlawful detainer action against tenants for non-payment of rent. The lease agreement required the tenants to pay $523.98 in rent per month by U.S Mail. The property manager instructed the tenants to pay rent by mail to a post office box address, and to always pay rent by money order. The property manager did not receive rent by September 5, 2015, so he prepared and served a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. The property manager did not receive any rent within the notice period, and the tenants remained in possession of the premises.  As such, the landlord filed an unlawful detainer action against the tenants.

However, on August 31, 2015, the tenant purchased a money order in the amount of $523.98 and mailed it to the post office box designated by the property manager, just as she had done for the past 30 years she had been living in the apartment with her family. The money order was returned as undeliverable. The tenant’s 17-year old son testified that, after the Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit was posted on their apartment door, he made 5 or 6 attempts to speak with the property manager by telephone to determine if the money order had been received.  He reached the property manager only once, and the property manager told the son that he had not yet had a chance to check the post office box.

The trial court rendered judgment for the tenants finding that the tenants had complied with their obligations under the lease to mail the rent payment to the post office box designated by the property manager.  The landlord appealed.

The Appellate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court held that, when a tenant mails rent at a landlord’s direction and, through no fault of the tenant, the landlord does not receive it, the tenant is not in default in the payment of rent in an unlawful detainer action.

This rule applies only where the tenant is required mail rent payments as the exclusive method of payment. Had the landlord permitted the tenant to pay rent by another means (i.e. in person), the tenant would have born the risk that the landlord would not receive the payment. The court noted, without deciding, that even where the landlord bears the risk that a rent check will be lost in the mail, the landlord may be able to shift the risk of loss back to the tenant with a lease provision stating that the tenant bears the risk of loss.

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The law firm of Ruzicka, Wallace & Coughlin, LLP represents landlords, property management companies, institutional and private lenders, employers and insurance companies throughout the State of California in real estate, business and employment litigation. The information provided herein is for general interest only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.

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September 30, 2017 | Landlord-Tenant Law |