A tenant paid the late fee even thought I didn't send a three day notice. Can that come back to bite me?
They are frequently late and sometimes tell me they are going to be late and I waved the fee but I charged the fee in last month but didn't this month. This is in a non-rent control California city.
I know it's paranoid but....
Were they late in paying per the lease? (IE late fee charged on day 5 and they paid on day 6)
Yes, late fee is after 3 days late.
To me it doesn't matter if you serve a 3 day or not, late fees are due on day 4. Are you saying they paid late fees on day 3? If so, I'd refund it or add it to their deposit. You can waive the late fees when you see fit, but you should communicate what you are doing with the tenant so they understand what your rights are and what their obligation is. In my mind it is more important to be consistent across tenants then consistent across months.
Why not just send a quick email:
Hi (insert name)
I noticed you included a late fee for your payment received (insert date), the ammount of (x.xx) has been added to your security deposit, increased by (x.xx) from (y.yy) to (z.zz).
Late fees will be assessed on the (insert number) day of each month.
(insert your name).
This is overkill, but if you are bothered enough to make this post maybe it'll put you at ease. You'll have clear context and record of what/when/how much..... If anything ever came of it, just print email and end it.
It appears as though you have now trained your tenant to pay late, they are obviously OK with the late fee and it should be charged every time they do not pay on time.
Obviously it is better business practice to teach tenants to pay on time but if you prefer they pay late that is your choice.
Your lease states when it is late and talks about late fees, so you're fine. You are overthinking it.
Be more confident and enforce your lease.
On a separate note, I personally suggest one flat late fee once it's late rather than the daily-increasing late fee. That is just added administrative work for you. Imagine trying to keep all these daily-increasing fees straight with several rental units. One flat fee...the max legally allowed.
Thanks all, what I am concerned about is would accepting a late fee that has not been noticed establish any duty on my part in California. I would not add it too or credit it as anything but a late fee if it is not required. As for communicating with my tenant if accepting it is ok, paying it without asking seems to say that they understand that paying late is not ok.
It is by the way a flat fee not an increasing fee. When I wave the fee I say something like "I wave the late fee if rent is paid by x date."
I like the idea of emailing but not of giving credit if credit is not deserved.