As a landlord, it’s not uncommon to experience frustrating tenants that don’t pay their rent. Late rent is just one of the hazards of property management. Despite how often this happens to landlords, many still feel lost on what to do when it does. This article will serve as our advice for handling a situation in which a tenant is not paying their rent.
First Things First – Don’t Do This!
Before we jump into what steps a landlord should follow for optimal results, it’s important that we cover what NOT to do. Many landlords make the mistake of using “self-help” techniques which may include shutting off utilities, locking out their tenant, or harassing them for payment. All of those actions (and some not included on this short list) are very much illegal and should be avoided.
By using “self-help” techniques, the landlord will not only hurt their chance of resolving the situation in court if it comes to that later on, but it could also get them into other legal trouble in the short-term.
Steps to Take
So, now that you know what not to do, you may be wondering what you can do to collect your past-due rent. It’s best to follow a specific path to optimize your results and stay out of trouble.
1. Open Lines of Communication
The first thing you’ll want to do is reach out to your tenant within 24 hours of their rent deadline passing. The best way to do this is by emailing them a late rent notice or physically posting one on their door. This notice should remind them of any late fees, grace periods, or any other applicable information laid out in the lease. If this isn’t the first time your tenant is late on rent, it may also be helpful to describe to them your action plan should you not receive their rent by the given extended deadline. Scaring them with the threat of eviction, late fees, etc. may encourage them to send payment quickly because it will let them know you are serious.
If they don’t respond to this notice or pay their rent within 1-2 business days, give them a call. Sometimes it may just be an innocent issue of them forgetting to pay or not receiving your notice. Talking to them over the phone is not only a great way to get a read on their attitude and intentions, it’s also helpful to convey your seriousness. You can call a couple of times and leave a voicemail if they don’t answer, but do not call excessively because it may be construed as harassment and could get you in trouble like we mentioned above.
2. Send Notice
If this phone conversation doesn’t get you any further with receiving your late rent payment, you should act quickly in sending them an eviction notice (in this case, a Pay Rent or Quit notice). This notice should include information such as the total amount due (broken down into late fees, months of delinquent rent, etc.), when it’s due, and your intent to evict if you do not receive the rent by the described deadline. The best way to deliver this information would be to post it on their door AND send it via certified letter so that if it comes to it, you can prove in court that they received the notice.
3. Prepare for Court
At this time, it’s not a bad idea to begin preparing the documents you’ll need if you have to take your tenant to court for eviction. These documents would be proof of delinquent rent, records of late fees, copies of your notices and attempts to collect, and any other correspondence documented between you and the tenant.
4. File for Eviction
If the tenant does not pay within your notice timeline, you can file for eviction. This may take weeks to months depending on your location, so don’t hesitate to get the ball rolling as soon as you’re able. When your tenant is evicted, the property will be open for a new paying tenant which will allow you to start earning money again. As far as the delinquent rent from the last tenant, you can try to take them to small claims court for the amount due; however, most of the time, even if you win the judgment, collecting will be next to impossible. It’s often best to cut your losses or, as allowed in some locations, take the back rent out of their security deposit and just move on.
The best advice we can give in these situations is to avoid them in the first place. You can do that by heavily screening the applicants prior to allowing them to move in. Ask for income verification, references, and past rental history so you can see their track record before allowing them to move in. For more advice on tenant screening, check out this article over in our Landlord content!