5 Things to Do When a Tenant Stops Paying Rent

Written on May 16, 2017 by , updated on December 3, 2019

Tenant not payingI got into the landlord business purely by accident. Everything was going well, at least, for a while.

I thought I was lucky since my screening process consisted of a neighbor knowing a person who needed a place. Eventually, not surprisingly, my tenant stopped paying rent.

Related: Screening Tenants with Cozy

Since I didn’t have much experience as a landlord at the time, I listened to my tenant’s excuses and regularly took rent payments late. Before too long, my tenant was six months behind on rent.

Yikes!

I learned a thing or two since then, and now I know what to do when a tenant stops paying rent. If you’re a landlord, you should know, too.

1. Talk With Your Tenant

There’s a phrase I learned from Dr. Phil: “You teach people how to treat you.” By being a pushover with my tenant, they learned that when their bills piled up, rent could be skipped here and there without any repercussions.

Instead, I should have talked with my tenant. I should have asked what the problem was. It’s a good thing to be understanding, but tenants need to realize that they need to pay rent on time, or they can’t stay.

If you don’t pay, you can’t stay.

Let them know that you still need to pay your bills and, therefore, can’t afford not to receive rent.

The first time rent is late, let your tenant know that because you understand that renting this place has become a hardship, you’re willing to let them out of their lease early without penalty if they leave by the end of the week. If they don’t want to do that, let them know that you’ll be giving them a formal eviction notice.

That might be all it takes to get your tenant back on track and paying rent on time. When faced with the idea of needing to leave the property, quickly finding another place, and coming up with moving costs (not to mention paying rent and security deposit elsewhere), paying rent to you will probably become a top priority.

2. Send a “Pay or Quit” Notice

Almost every state requires a landlord to send a “Notice to pay or quit” when a tenant fails to pay rent. Basically, this is a formal letter (or email) that says “Hey, you forgot to pay rent! You have X days to pay it in full, or your lease will be terminated and you’ll have to move out.”

In most states, this “X” notice period is short, in the range of 3 to 5 days. If they don’t pay, and they don’t move out, then you can formally terminate their agreement and they lose the right to occupy the dwelling. If they still refuse to leave, then you have to file an action with your local eviction court.

Related: 10 Types of Notices for Every Landlord

3. File an Eviction Action

The only way to legally “force” a tenant out of a property is with the sheriff’s help. A landlord is never allowed to lock out a tenant or turn off essential utilities.

If you have a rogue tenant, you might have to go down to your local courthouse and fill out the proper paperwork for an eviction hearing. They will likely want to see the “Notice to Pay or Quit” that you sent, so be sure to bring that with you.

Once you pay the court fees, the administrator will schedule your hearing, which is usually 2-6 weeks out. You might be responsible for serving the tenant the subpoena, but some courts will do this for you.

Then, show up on your court date, explain your case, and hopefully you will win a judgment against the tenant. Then you can hire the sheriff to remove the tenant by force.

Related: The Eviction Process in 8 Easy Steps

4. Pay Your Tenant to Leave: Cash for Keys

If your tenant doesn’t pay the rent after your talk, you still have a chance to avoid the eviction process. You can make a deal. If your tenant isn’t paying the rent because of financial problems, they might be motivated to move pronto if you pay them.

Yes, I know that this idea feels wrong. They owe you money, so why should you pay them?

You need to get your emotions out of this, and weigh the costs and benefits in a businesslike manner to help you make the decision. An eviction will get the tenant out. But it won’t be immediate. Check with your jurisdiction to find out how long evictions typically take.

Hint: Evictions generally take longer than you want to wait, typically one to three months.

Evictions generally (always) take longer than you want to wait.

If your tenant leaves immediately because you paid them, say, $250, $500, or even $1,000, you will probably be better off, not to mention the stress you’ll save yourself over the next month or more from going through the eviction process then trying to collect on the judgment.

Related:

5. Consider Hiring a Property Manager or a Lawyer

If you just aren’t the type to deal with a tenant who stops paying rent, or if you aren’t enforcing timely rent payments each month, you might be better off hiring a property manager. The same tenant who might try to get away with not paying you for a month or two probably won’t try that once a professional property manager is in charge.

The management company is a neutral third-party with systems in place for handling unpleasant situations.

Alternatively, you could hire a lawyer who will try to hunt down your money and barrage the tenant with notices and formal letters.

Related: Should I Hire a Professional Property Manager?

Bottom Line

Take it seriously the first time rent is late. You want to stop the behavior right away before your tenant stops paying rent and the situation gets out of hand.

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70 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Mike

    I am in process of eviction my handy cap brother he has been in a rehabilitation home for 10 months he has not pay his board for 8 months the other day I received a certified letter in the mail it was 1 month rent check should I send it back sense I am in process of eviction case what should I do

    • steve rosenberg

      dont send back cut loses
      landlord gave you back 1 months rent or squrity
      not stassified talk to him
      steve
      ps
      sorry for all youir proobles hope your brothwer feels good

    • Scott

      I would go to a continuing education program (they are offered at many local high schools and just about any community college), there you can learn proper English, along with punctuation, and then you would be about to type out a complete sentence that would make sense to those of us that did pay attention in English 101 in high school.

  • Patricia Stamand

    I am in process of eviction my brother he is handicap has not paid rent in 8 months I just got a check for 1 month the other day for 1 month should I send it back

  • William Henry

    What a Neanderthal answer! Pay some dirtbag to leave? Uncle scumbag doesn’t pay you to leave when you don’t pay your taxes! Nor does uncle scumbag pay you to move your car when you rent a parking spot! This is a crime by the government! Allowing a renter to stay in the property after an eviction was granted is abaiding a crime! The government is allowing trespassing and supporting vandals and criminals by threats of violence to said land owners! Allowing renters to destroy your personal property while they threaten the land lord Is abaiding a crime and the United States government should be held as an accomplice and accountable for the actions of the tenants as an accomplice!! This is why Americans need to be armed!

    • Carol

      I’m in Calgary Canada and my tenants are not paying. I got a court date and its 2 months down the road. They are just laughing at me. I just cannot believe that people are allowed to do this. I have been told even after the court date and I win…good luck trying to get back rent off them as that is a whole other court process. I’m now trying to sell the place and they are sabotaging everyone who looks at it. I wish I had never let them rent…. There really are some very crazy people in this world only out to take other working people for a ride….

      • James HUGHES

        Carol

        I have the answer with Calgary Police, I did it with a womans house to evict dirtbags. I went to court in Calgary twice, 2 different Judges.
        No help at all, I just authorized to kick door in with homeowner and took out modem, then kept turning lights off, until dirtbags pulled out a knife.
        Then called 911, evicted on spot.
        Jim

  • Mary Perry

    My daughter lost her job and is working out of state. She has been paying the rent(with 3 roommates) and has looked for a subleter to no avail. She cannot afford to continue paying. Any help on this situation would be so appreciated.

  • Michalel

    I inherited a house from my brother . There is a hold over tenant that is 6 months behind on rent
    Since inherited the property, He continues to disregard lawyer letters , late rent warnings, 5 day demand for rent letter . And eviction letter . He still stays in the property and invites his family over to party constantly . I don’t no how much he owes my brother before he passed away however it has been a nightmare . The don’t answer phone call and never response to anything. They just disregard leagal letters . I want them to move out if my brothers house before it is sold and I want the back rent . What can I do next ? Should I seek another attorney ? How can I get them
    To leave ?

    • Mary

      Michalel I am in the same situation I took ownership of my Mother property 2 years ago, my niece lives there and gives my Mom money when she wants to. She has not paid anything in 1 year. My mother covered for her, I thought she was paying something! I am ready to make her pay rent with a new lease agreement with me as the owner. I need help to know what steps I should take to start this process. There are three house on one parcel and her mother my sister lives in one, her son took over the back studio. Can someone help me with this please

    • Sunny

      This is a nightmare.Inheritences almost always are. My experience is that no one is ever happy. Always someone who wants what they cant have or wouldn’t benefit from. The lengths they will go to are truly criminal in nature at times.Try to find a lawyer that deals with inheritance’s and real estate. This should help to cut through some of this.
      On another note I have found my posts missing from this board. This coincides with another problem. I know you are there and I wont use this site till you get out of my computer and my life. I will not be stalked bullied or harassed by you any more. I am not responsible for you or your problems. Find the person who actually lived in Deltona beach you will have your answer. I have never lived there.

  • Alex

    My tenant stopped paying rent three months ago. Due to a leak that couldn’t be repaired because tenant above her would not allow access into his apartment.

    For safety reasons we asked her to vacate. Now she’s asking for her deposit. But hasn’t paid rent in three months! Do I have to return this deposit?

  • Deb

    I have a tenant who moved into my Condo in Nov, in Dec she moved out and left boyfriend behind. He hasn’t paid Jan nor Feb rent. 7 days ago he moved his belongings out but left utilities on, They will not reapond to messages, I informed him that I needed to get inside and make some repairs they ignored my measages, I misplaced keys to condo so I had locks rekeyed and told them where to pick up new keys. Its been 48 hours and I havent heard from them so today we went in to check for abandonment and to make the repairs.
    All the Furniture is gone. Just a few kitchen and bath items. I live in Fl how long do I wait after abandonment to reclaim Condo?

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