PROPER THREE DAY NOTICE
Nothing is more important to the typical eviction action than a proper Three Day Notice. That most common notice, the first one a property manager learns to prepare, is the key to a successful eviction action. After the notice expires, an eviction action is filed, and voila, the judge signs the final judgment, and the resident is evicted. The notice prepared by an untrained manager often contains deficiencies. If the eviction is successful, it would seem them that the Three Day Notice is really not that important after all. This assumption is correct if the judge fails to look at the Three Day Notice or views the deficiencies as excusable, or the resident does not know the law or the resident fails to retain an attorney who most likely does know the law.
The Good Old Days
Up to about 2007, many judges would not carefully examine the Three Day Notice that was attached to the eviction complaint, and most residents would not be able to afford to retain an attorney. After all, they did not have the money to pay the rent, and most residents did not know the laws regarding the Three Day Notice. What changed? With the advent of the massive number of foreclosure cases, the larger number of defective evictions being filed by non-attorneys, and the increase in residents hiring attorneys to help them fight the eviction actions on a contingency basis like auto accident cases, preparing an accurate Three Day Notice became much more important. Many judges began to be criticized for not looking at the papers they were signing and decided it was time to start being a bit more careful, lest they get their names splattered in the newspapers as being sloppy judges who did not care about the law. Attorneys who previously would have turned away a resident under eviction, opting for a more lucrative real estate closing, began to lose business with the economic slowdown and then began to decide to spend some time with the residents who walked into their office for help. Some attorneys started to realize that it could actually be lucrative to represent residents, because if the eviction was dismissed due to a technicality or the resident won the case, the attorney representing the resident could not only get a substantial award of attorneys fees against the property owner, BUT could potentially get what is known as a “multiplier” whereby the judge could double or even triple the attorney’s fee award, forcing the manager to have a judgment against them for many thousands of dollars. All of the above has created a firestorm of epic proportions, and NOW, the property manager must be EXTRA careful to make sure there is no technicality that can cause the eviction to be dismissed or the resident winning in court.
What technicality is the most common defense to an eviction action? The improper Three Day Notice. The law provides that the resident must place the rent money into the court registry before any defenses can be raised; including claims that the notice is defective, BUT some judges allow motions to dismiss and trials to occur even when there is not a dime posted in the registry of the court. Is it wrong that many judges are apparently not following the law? We think so, but the judge has the final say in the absence of an expensive and time consuming appeals process. Fortunately, most legal scholars are of the opinion that in order to raise the defense of a defective notice, the resident must post the rent money into the registry of the court, and most judges do follow this interpretation of the law. YOU must be prepared for the judge who disagrees with this interpretation of the law.
For years, our firm has been accused of being “picky” when it came to requiring clients to prepare and serve the Three Day Notice correctly, but most of our clients recognize why this scrutiny is important. The manager does not want to pay out exorbitant fees to a resident’s attorneys due to mistakes on the Three Day Notice. We catch the mistakes, force our clients to redo the Three Day Notice, and better yet, train our clients to prepare them correctly the first time around. You can go through a red light so many times and not get caught, speed all day long and not get caught, but sooner or later, not only will your number be up, BUT an “accident” could occur, and this “accident” could mean your company pays out a large amount of money to a resident’s attorney. Some attorneys now are actually seeking out residents under eviction and making “resident eviction defense” a lucrative cottage industry. It makes no difference that the resident has not paid rent in 3 months. It is all about technicalities. You have a choice. Prepare your Three Day Notice correctly, or take an expensive gamble.
This article will simply go through the Three Day Notice step by step, and you can ask yourself if you or your company is preparing them correctly or taking an unnecessary risk. The article does not cover all aspects of the Three Day Notice. We have many more articles covering individual aspects in depth you can read on www.evict.com. If your company refuses to prepare the Three Day Notices correctly, feel free to ask us to show you case upon case in which attorneys are nailing property management companies for significant amounts of money. Times have changed, and so should you.
The Resident’s Name
The names you put on the Three Day Notice must match the names on the lease, and if the name or names on the lease are incorrect, as they often are, you need to find out the proper name and put it on the Three Day Notice like this: John Smith a/k/a (also known as) as John Smyth. Leasing agents routinely input the information incorrectly into the computer when generating the lease, and this incorrect information carries over for the entire year and even at renewals. You can’t depend on residents to point out a mistake. Rather, expect them to leave a mistake alone, as it may go to their advantage, and they know it.
If a resident has been added or subtracted from a lease, make certain that this is reflected. Blind reliance on your computer information causes mistakes. Never use just one name when there are 2 lease signers, or use Mr. or Ms., or rely on a catch all of “and all other occupants”. Just get the names right. It is that easy. If one person has not signed the lease but is in the computer as a resident, CALL YOUR ATTORNEY for advice. We see leases that have 2 names listed, but only one person signed. Filing an eviction against the person who has not signed could trigger a lawsuit. Remember, it was your mistake that allowed both to move in with only one signing, so do not exacerbate the mistake. Get advice. Possibly your attorney will tell you to put both names on the Three Day Notice, BUT this advice will depend on the particular facts and circumstances.
There is no need to put children on the notice who are not lease signers on the lease. Sounds silly, right? But it happens, because your computer program often generates the names, and they end up on the Three Day Notice. We have even seen pet names on the Three Day Notice because of the computer programming issues.
The address MUST match the lease AND the official address that the United States Post Office (which the sheriff relies upon) has for the resident. Did your company decide to change street names or building numbering? It happens all the time and wreaks havoc on addresses. Was the address put in the lease and computer incorrectly? If so, it ends up carrying over onto the Three Day Notice, and possibly you will not find out the mistake until it is too late. Some addresses contain internal company codes that have nothing to do with the real address. Get rid of them. They are useless and should not be on the Three Day Notice. If an address is slightly incorrect, the process server may encounter a resident who indicates the address on the court paperwork is wrong, and that the correct resident lives across the hallway. The process server then walks to the correct door, knocks, gets no answer and posts the papers on the door. No problem, right? Wrong. The eviction goes along, you get a final judgment, and when the sheriff goes to serve and execute the writ of possession, your case is TOAST. The sheriff will NOT serve the papers to any other address than that on the eviction papers, and remember that that address was WRONG. You might actually have to start the eviction all over again from scratch depending on the circumstances. Get the address correct and confirm. Finally, is the address on the door, or did someone rip off the number or letter? Never assume the sheriff will decide what door is the correct door. Assume that if there is any doubt, the sheriff will non-serve the writ of possession,
The date of the notice is the date that you are serving the notice: not the day before, not the day after. It is the date you or a staff member is actually going out and serving the notice. Sometimes notices are prepared, and there is no time left in the day to serve them, so they sit on the desk and are served the next day. No harm done you think, but the date is wrong. You then sloppily change the date if you notice it, or try to say that the date on the bottom of the notice, the “Certificate of Service” section, is correct. While this may be the case, the top date of the notice is wrong or sloppily changed and causes the Three Day Notice to be defective or look defective. Sometimes the date is not just one day off but can even be a month or more off. How does this happen? Your computer system generates a wrong date, or you pull up a Three Day Notice from the month before and forget to change the date. These dating mistakes happen all the time and can be fatal to your case.
What Does the Resident Owe?
The resident owes what the computer says they owe, right? Technically this may be correct, but you can ONLY put RENT on a Three Day Notice. What is rent? Rent is what your lease says indicates is rent, and this may include late charges, periodic charges such as washer and dryer fees, and other charges, but the real “rent” is what your attorney tells you is rent. Some judges do not allow anything but base rent on the Three Day Notice, prohibiting all late charges, and will throw a case right out of court if he or she sees amounts that are not base rent. How would you have known this? After all, at the prior property you managed, this was not a problem. You must ask your attorney what is permissible to put on the Three Day Notice. It does not matter what your company says is rent or what is actually owed; it only matters what the judge will allow on the Three Day Notice. The amount you put on the Three Day Notice should be an exact amount. It should not grow with time. Writing things like, “plus $5 a day”, can and often does render the notice fatally defective. There are long lines of cases growing each day in which judges have thrown out the Three Day Notice for this exact reason. But your company wants you to put this on the notice!! Go ahead. Follow your company’s advice, but remember that if you file the eviction with the incorrect wording, your risk of having the case being thrown out increases exponentially. The problem really lies in your company wanting to collect the money, and rightly so. If your company insists, prepare the Three Day Notice with whatever you want on it, BUT be prepared to prepare and serve a NEW Three Day Notice and wait the required time period for expiration if you are going to file the eviction action. Got away with putting any amount you wanted on the Three Day Notice in the past? Do what you want. You have been warned.
The Expiration Date of the Three Day Notice
When you serve a Three Day Notice, you cannot count the date of service, and it expires 3 business days after the date of posting after you exclude Saturdays, Sundays and court observed legal holidays. Serve the notice on Monday? It expires on Thursday as long as Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday are not court observed legal holidays. What is a court observed legal holiday? It is a legal holiday when the judges are not working. The “court” is observing the holiday. You most likely had to work that day, BUT the judges did not; therefore, it is a court observed legal holiday. Does your attorney provide you with a holiday list? Call and check if you are not sure. We provide a list each year of the court observed legal holidays and each month without fail tell you what they are on our Email Newsletter. Read it! There is NO excuse for forgetting legal holidays when counting the three business days. NONE. Mark your calendar, and make sure you always ask your attorney if there are any court observed legal holidays, or if you are not sure, just consider the day a court observed legal holiday, and you will be safe. Some court observed legal holidays actually pop up by surprise. How does this happen? The judges get together, meet and decide that a particular day, often a religious holiday will be a court observed legal holiday, and so it happens. Will you know this? Most likely not, BUT your attorney will, so you need to ask. Sometimes we get asked if Halloween or Valentine’s Day is a legal holiday. Funny, huh? At least the property manager is keenly aware of the importance of excluding court observed legal holidays, so it certainly is not in the “stupid question” category.
The Resident Did Not Pay by Closing Time
Nothing in the law provides that the resident must pay you by office closing time. The law indicates the resident has three business days to pay, not including Saturdays, Sundays or court observed legal holidays. This business of trying to say that a resident did not pay on time because he dropped off the check in the drop box at midnight will only cause you grief. If the money is in the drop box in the morning, consider that he paid within the time period allotted by the Three Day Notice. When you try to jam a resident and refuse the rent or hit them with additional late charges, you are just asking for trouble with judges, who can see right through the refusal of rent. Oftentimes under this scenario, a judge will determine that you really just want the resident out, and that even though a Three Day Notice for unpaid rent was given, the eviction is really about other beefs you have with the resident. Judges were not born yesterday, and your eviction is not the first one they have seen. Most deal with hundreds or thousands of these cases a year.
The law does not address late charges; therefore, it is not clear what is legal or not to charge. What we do know is that when a judge sees incredibly high late charges, the judge can decide to throw the whole case out. Charging a resident $400 for rent plus $700 accumulated late charges is an outrage, but we sometimes see this scenario, usually because the computer program continues to hit the resident for late charges if there are any balances owed, no matter how small. Property managers who continue to accept rent from a resident without demanding that the resident pay the late charge set themselves up for failure. The managers we work with who are most successful at collecting late charges will refuse the late rent payment if it does not include the late charges, and this sets the tone early on with the resident for future payments. Want to keep accepting rent and letting late charges build up until your regional manager has a fit? Go right ahead. A similar dynamic applies when you fail to collect the water charges, and they build up each month. You will pay the price when your attorney refuses to file the eviction with a Three Day Notice with excessive late or non-rent charges. Someday we may have legislation which sets limits on late charges, but until such time, check with your attorney to see if your late charge policy is in line with what the judges in your areas are currently allowing.
Extraneous Writing on the Three Day Notice
Many property managers place statements on the notice like, “Only Money Orders or Certified Funds will be Accepted”, or, “No Checks Will Be Accepted”. Where did this come from? If the lease does not clearly allow the property manager to demand payment in this particular form, you cannot demand it on the Three Day Notice. Never hand-write any little messages or notes on the Three Day Notice. Stick to the proper form as provided for you by Florida law, and keep the little notes or messages off the Three Day Notice.
Some Final Words
Many of you reading this article have heard it all and seen it all before, but simply are following your company’s direction or preparing the Three Day Notices the same way for years. Take the time to call your attorney and speak directly with your attorney, not just a paralegal or secretary, and almost universally, you will hear confirmation of everything you have read in this article. Most of the larger landlord/tenant law firms have been around long enough to see how things have indeed changed, and it is time to change with the times or be in for an expensive surprise. When your attorney turns down an eviction or tells you to redo and reserve your Three Day Notice, your attorney is not making any money. They don’t want to tell you the bad news or disappoint you. Your attorney is looking out for the best interests of you and your company.
- The Curable Noncompliance Examined PART 1
- THE CURABLE NONCOMPLIANCE EXAMINED PART 2
- THE WRIT OF POSSESSION – WHAT IT IS
- THE WRIT OF POSSESSION AND THE FULL UNIT
- WORK ORDER COMPANY POLICY AND THE LAW