Rare is the landlord who has yet to experience at least one late rent payment, or worse, a tenant who is consistently late with the rent. Sometimes it can be a sign of impending financial problems; other times it’s just a minor anomaly. Having the ability to discern between the two can be the saving grace for your relationship. With that in mind, here’s what to do when a tenant’s rent is late.
The first thing you should do is check the lease agreement to confirm they are in fact late. Most leases permit a three to five day grace period, so make sure they’re out of that window as well. If they really are late, place a phone call to the tenant in question to ascertain the cause of the issue and try to work out a solution. Remind them of their due date as set forth in the lease agreement, as well as the late fee they’ve incurred (every lease you write should have one). To avoid harassment charges, make this the only time you contact them by phone.
If the call does not produce the desired result, serve them with a late rent notice. This document should detail the past due amount plus the late fee. It should also remind them of the due date as set forth in the lease agreement and notify them of your intention to take legal action should the rent not be paid in full within three to five days. This document should be emailed and sent by standard mail with a tracking number to confirm the date of delivery. This way, if the situation goes legal you’ll have a record.
Should this fail, serve them with a pay or quit notice. The document should inform them of your intention to institute eviction proceedings, detail the amount owed and the date by which it should be paid to curtail the action (usually three to five days after delivery). Have it handed to the tenant in person, as well as emailed and delivered by regular mail with a tracking number so you can prove it was received.
If this too is ignored, consult an eviction attorney to file a complaint. You’ll pay a filing fee, which can be added to the amount the tenant owes when the judgment goes your way. To ensure it does, make sure you’ve documented every aspect of the situation. Bring a copy of the lease agreement to court, as well as documentation of all of your efforts to collect. In extreme cases, tenants may damage the unit out of spite. It is very important to get into the unit as soon as possible after filing the complaint to document the condition of the place should you need to present evidence of damage during the hearing.
Remember, you must get the tenant’s permission to enter the unit for this purpose and you must provide adequate notice. Under no circumstances should you ever become verbally or physically abusive, try to physically remove them from the property, subject them to intimidation, shut off utilities, or lock the tenant out. All of these actions are illegal and will open you to charges.
Further, you should never accept partial payments; this could be a problem if you have to go to court. If you renegotiate the terms of the lease in an effort to help them get back on track, make sure everything is documented in writing and signed by the two of you. Co-signors should be informed and given a chance to bring the rent current. If they do not, they should be named in the suit as well.
Above all, make sure you follow the rules of your state to the letter. While you may be just now learning what to do when a tenant’s rent is late, many tenants know the rules to the letter and won’t hesitate to take advantage of any mistake you make.
This article has been contributed by our friends at Onerent.