Unlawful detainers require precision. This includes notice to the tenant which states the exact amount owed. If the landlord accepts the partial payment by the tenant, the notice is technically improper and the landlord must start all over again with the U/D process. If you're a landlord proceeding with a U/D, you need to decide whether the partial payment is worth starting the U/D all over again. If it's not, you don't want to accept the partial payment.
This reply is provided for information purposes only and does not represent legal advice or an attorney-client relationship.
The landlord can keep the money. but the landlord cannot continue the unlawful detainer lawsuit. The landlord will have to start over and serve a revised 3-day notice to pay rent or quit, followed by filing a new complaint for unlawful detainer.
Alternatively, the landlord can return the money and proceed with the unlawful detainer lawsuit, get a judgment and writ of possession, and evict the tenant.
With respect to a residential tenancy (not a commercial lease which has different rules), once the landlord has served a 3 day notice for nonpayment of rent, if the landlord accepts rent (even partial rent) from the tenant, the 3 day notice is invalid because it no longer accurately reflects the amount the tenant owes. A new 3-day notice will have to be served.
If the unlawful detainer lawsuit had already been started when the landlord accepts partial rent from the tenant, a new complaint will have to be filed. In an unlawful detainer lawsuit, the amount due that is stated in the complaint must match the amount due that is stated in the 3 day notice.
Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, consult with your own attorney.