What To Do About A Non-Paying Tenant

Money And Key, Collection of rentLandlords have Financial Obligations. 

Property owners for apartment complexes or even a single individual rental home assure the property owner a monthly income and extra money to do repairs and improve the property. If tenants fail to pay rent consistently, this puts the property owner in a financial bind. The most that a landlord can do is send a late rent notice to the tenant. Landlord rights explain what can and cannot be done while keeping within their legal boundaries. Many rental owners hire an attorney specializing in rental properties and eviction issues.  

The landlord should speak to the tenant to determine the circumstances around missed rental payments and work with the tenant. However, if the tenant is always late with their rent payment or is consistently behind in payments, this would be a good cause for the landlord to start an eviction process. Tenants need to be given a pay or quit notice.  

Most landlords have multiple questions to which they do not necessarily know the answers. Hiring a seasoned attorney who can answer these questions is the best option.  

  • Does the landlord call the late-paying tenant to talk with them and figure out why they are late paying their rent? 
  • Does the landlord send the tenant a pay or quit notice? 
  • Does the landlord immediately file for eviction? 

Most rental agreements state rent to be due on the first of every month. Choosing the first of every month for the rent due date makes it simple for everyone.  

When Should the Landlord, Consider the Monthly Rent Late and Issue a Late Rent Notice?  

All states have different rental laws; however, most states require an element of grace for tenants late paying their rent. If a landlord wishes to add a grace period within tenants’ contracts, they can do so. This grace time cannot be less than what is required by their state. For example, if the state requires a ten-day grace period, the landlord cannot say a five-day grace period in the rental agreement.  

Follow the steps outlined below when a tenant is late paying their rent and the landlord believes it is time to act. The longer the landlord waits to collect back due rent, the more difficult it will be to collect this money. Always document and date conversations with the tenant to avoid miscommunication. Well-defined documentation offers clearer details to the judge should the case go to court. 

Send out an informal reminder to the tenant that their rent payment is past due. Send this notification via email, hard copy to the tenant, or tape the notice on the tenant’s door. This informal notice needs to include information such as, 

  • When was the rent due? 
  • How much is the rent that is due? 
  • Are there late fees? 
  • Leave a contact number for questions or concerns? 
  • A personal phone call assures a fast and easy way to connect with the tenant. The property owner must not cross the fine line into harassment. 

The next step involves an eviction if the tenant does not pay what they owe, including all fees. The tenant must pay the money owed by an appointed date. The landlord must write in detail what happens if the rent is not paid by that date. Once the tenant has this notice, they have up to five days to pay the past due amount.  If the tenant does not respond and does not make any attempts to pay, the landlord can file for eviction through the court system. The court system reviews the landlord’s paperwork and tries to connect with the tenant. The court sets a date to which the tenant and landlord must appear and present their cases. 

It is up to the judge to determine the outcome of the case. If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, they can then evict the tenant. It is illegal for the landlord to forge ahead of the judge’s decision to force the tenant to leave. The landlord cannot change the door locks or keep the tenant living on the property. The landlord has no authority to evict the tenant until they have a physical copy of the judgment in their hands.  

If the landlord still cannot make a tenant leave after the eviction process, they cannot force them to move. The landlord must not change locks, turn off utilities, or take other illegal actions. However, the landlord can take a writ of possession from the court and present it to law enforcement. The law officers can force the tenant to leave. 

If law officers must remove the tenant, the tenant’s belongings may be left behind. The landlord must put these belongings into storage and allow the tenant ample time to collect the items. If the tenant does not collect their items, the landlord can donate, sell, or give the possessions away. 

The Pandemic Causes Increased Problems 

Suppose there is a moratorium in place, as seen in many states with the COVID-19 pandemic? In these cases, the tenant can stay without paying rent for as long as the moratorium is in place. During these times, it is challenging, if not impossible, to evict a tenant even though a late rent notice went to the tenant. Common moratoriums usually stipulate that tenants must still pay rent; however, no eviction notices can be filed if the moratorium is in place. During this time, evictions are at a slower pace and are not acted upon unless others’ health and welfare are at risk. Pandemic issues require that tenants and landlords work together to find a solution. 

Steps to Take During a Moratorium 

The landlord can speak with their lenders about freezing and deferment options regarding their mortgage. The landlord may be able to waive a month or two of rent for the sake of their business. The landlord could reduce the rent amount to cover the mortgage. Landlords can also work out a solution with the tenants. The tenant and landlord can agree to a repayment date in writing. Reducing rent amounts helps the tenant and the landlord. There may be available resources to support the tenant’s rent, such as special funding groups during challenging times. 

The Tenant Leaves without Paying 

If the nonpaying tenant leaves the property, it is most challenging to get the tenant to pay for the months they lived on the property. Some tenants leave at the end of their contract, while other tenants leave no matter what. The tenant still owes the landlord money either way.  

The landlord’s first step is to file a claim in small claims court for money the tenant owes. The court will no doubt award, judgment to the landlord. At this time, the landlord could hire a third-party debt collector giving the collection company the job of collecting it. The collection company can take steps to recover the landlord’s money, such as seen in garnishing wages.  

It is best if the landlord has expert, seasoned, and skilled attorneys by their side because some matters that arise tend to become complicated, complex, and time-consuming.