Under California commercial landlord-tenant law, the landlord’s remedy for the tenant’s nonpayment of rent is to first serve a notice to pay or quit and then, if the tenant does not pay, file suit to recover possession of the premises. In Culver Center Partners East # 1, L.P. v. Baja Fresh Westlake Village, Inc., the California Court of Appeal held that a notice to pay or quit that is not delivered in strict conformance with the terms of the lease is ineffective, even if the tenant actually receives the notice.
In Culver Center, a commercial lease provided that notices to the tenant could be provided by several means, including delivery to the tenant’s corporate leasing manager (at an address other than the leased premises) or electronically. However, no e-mail address was provided for electronic delivery.
When the tenant missed a rent payment, the landlord attempted to serve a notice to pay or quit. The landlord mailed the notice to the wrong address and also e-mailed a copy of the notice to leasing manager. There was no dispute that the leasing manager actually received the e-mail. The tenant attempted to timely pay the rent within the notice period, but mistakenly sent the payment to the wrong address. When the rent was finally sent to the correct address, the landlord rejected it as untimely and sued to recover possession of the premises.
The Culver Center court held that California law required that the landlord strictly comply with the notice provisions of the lease. Mailing the notice to the incorrect address was not strict compliance. Further, although the lease permitted electronic notice, there was no e-mail address specified in the lease for delivery of electronic notice. Therefore, the Culver Center court ruled that electronic notice was not sufficient, even if the tenant’s leasing manager actually received the e-mail. Since the landlord did not properly serve the notice to pay or quit, the court affirmed judgment for the tenant.
Culver Center provides two important lessons for commercial landlords. First, courts will permit electronic service of a notice to pay or quit if permitted by the lease and if the lease identifies a specific e-mail address for service. Second, no matter what the notice provision states, the landlord must strictly comply with that provision.