July 17, 2017

Updated April 21, 2021

Grappling with tenants who pay their rent late is one of the worst parts of a landlord’s job. Many landlords want to be fair and yet there are some tenants who know how to play the system. Understanding the local landlord law can help you navigate what you should and should not do as a landlord for late rental payments.

Here are some ways you can deal with late rental payments and tenants who just won’t pay on time.

Charge Late Fees

This is something you will have to detail in the lease, but late fees can help you gain back your lost funds when a tenant is late on the rent. While you may be willing to give someone a pass the very first time their rent is late, you will need to be stricter if it happens again.   Each state has different laws about when, how, and how much to charge for late fees, so make sure you know your state’s policies backward and forwards. According to Rentalutions, it’s usually a good rule of thumb to charge no more than 5 percent of the tenant’s rent first and then increase the amount the longer the individual doesn’t pay up.  

Keep Track of Everything

Keeping track of when your tenant makes their payments and how much was paid on that date is paramount if you need to bring the issue to court. Also, there are ways of keeping track of rent payments that can make everything much easier on you and the tenant. Having them pay online, for example, will take a face-to-face meeting out of the equation, making it impossible for them to claim they weren’t able to pay because you weren’t available.  

Find Out What’s Going On

There might be a reason why your tenant’s rent is late, and they may have a perfectly understandable excuse. A death in the family or something similar should garner some sympathy on your part. If the person is experiencing a financial issue (like if they have lost their job), there are ways you can help them and deal with it together. For example, you can refer them to a rent assistance program.   However, some tenants will always have an excuse for why their rent is late, and no matter how much time they’re given, they will keep arguing that they need more. When this is the case, sympathy isn’t necessary.  

Don’t Wait to Evict

When eviction seems imminent, and you know you have done all you can to avoid it and understand your tenant, it is essential to start the process as soon as possible. You won’t want to miss your window or to experience an even more drawn-out issue because you are waiting on the eviction process to get to the next step.   The best way to know that it’s time for eviction is to ask yourself:

  • Is the renter trustworthy?
  • Is this the first time an issue like this has happened?
  • Can I no longer expect them to pay the rent in the future?

If the answer to all of these is no, it’s time to start the process of eviction.

It is understood throughout the rental industry that tenants must pay rent for tenants to live in a rental property. Terms of payment and amounts that can be charged vary by city and state. All local and federal governments recognize that money does change hands. Those governing bodies produce landlord/tenant laws in each state that both parties must follow. As a landlord, you must be fair. Both tenants and landlords must follow the contract rules set forth by the lease.

This article was written by the Rentometer Content Team. The Rentometer Blog features fresh takes and insights on rental housing topics, services, and technology. If you liked this article, subscribe to Rentometer's email newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in rental housing.