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by Janet Portman, Inman News

Little old ladyQ: We own a home that we rented to an elderly woman and her daughter. The mother has recently been admitted to a convalescent hospital, and the daughter, who is also sick, is having a hard time coming up with the rent (she hasn’t been able to find a roommate because the place is so dirty).

If she doesn’t pay the rent, we cannot pay the mortgage and we will end up in foreclosure.

Can we give her a notice to vacate the property because she hasn’t paid the rent, even though she’s sick? –Art B.

A: You are within your rights to terminate this tenancy if the rent remains unpaid. But there may be steps you can take that could avert that eventuality.

First, if you believe that the property’s condition is the reason your tenant has not been able to find a roommate, discuss this with the tenant. Perhaps circumstances surrounding her mother’s illness and move have overwhelmed her, making it hard to keep on top of the housekeeping. You might consider helping her towards a fresh start, by paying for a housecleaning service to thoroughly clean the unit. Of course, your tenant will have to follow through with good housekeeping habits, otherwise a roommate who is brought in when all is clean and neat will leave when conditions deteriorate, and you’ll all be back to where you started.

Second, call your local social services agency. Your tenant may qualify for rent assistance (perhaps as a Section 8 recipient). If you don’t already accept Section 8, you’ll want to look into it. Your county may also have direct aid programs that she would qualify for, particularly if she is significantly ill (or legally disabled).

Finally, try to learn whether your tenant has other family members who might help out. Often, families are unaware of dire conditions when the person at risk is too proud, or afraid, to contact them. Though you don’t want to get into the middle of a family drama, you could at least pass this information on to the relevant social services agency, who might get involved.

Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of Every Landlord’s Legal Guide and Every Tenant’s Legal Guide. She can be reached at

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Copyright 2009 Janet Portman

See Janet Portman’s feature, No High-Def Wiring: Landlord Must Allow Tenant’s Dish.

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