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My Tenant Stopped Paying the Rent – What Can I Do?

Non-payment of rent is a serious problem. It is one of those predicaments that places the landlord in a difficult situation. Moral and ethical values are often challenged by the need to collect the rent. If your only two choices are to evict a family that has fallen on hard times, or to go weeks or months without getting paid, the right choice isn’t always obvious. Most landlords have a conscience and genuinely care about the safety and well-being of their tenants. So the challenge is finding a solution that works out well for your tenant, as well as for your bottom line.

Being caring and compassionate is great, but at the end of the day, you depend on that rental income to pay for some, if not all of your bills and expenses. We are going to discuss some options that aren’t always apparent. This includes how to have an open and effective discussion with your tenants, an effective technique that can work out well for both parties, as well as the best course of action for securing the rent. This will give you the knowledge and mindset you need in order to be profitable and successful.

If you have a tenant that is past due on the rent, then sitting down with them and having an open and heartfelt discussion could prove to be very beneficial. Most tenants who are dealing with financial issues will be more than happy to have a conversation. In the majority of cases, they feel guilty and burdened by not being able to pay the rent on time. It’s an uncomfortable situation for both parties. So it’s important for both the landlord and the tenant to get their thoughts and feelings out in the open. Keeping it all bottled up will only create more stress and anxiety. Provide your tenant with the opportunity to explain their situation. Allow them to tell you in their own words why they are unable to pay the rent.

Perhaps due to the state of the economy, their company decided to downsize which meant terminating their position. Or maybe they had to deal with health issues that drained their checking and savings accounts. It’s also possible that their car broke down and needed repairs. In order to get it fixed so they could continue commuting to work, they had to give their rent money to the mechanic. These are all situations that can prevent your tenants from paying their rent. But as the landlord, you also have to make your position known. Let them know that you also have bills and expenses each month. And since the bank won’t give you more time on the mortgage payment, you are unable to give them more time to pay their rent.

Before threatening them with eviction, and we only recommend that as a last possible resort, see if their cash flow problem is short-term or long-term. If they recently lost their job, or had to deal with other bills and expenses, it might only be a temporary problem. If that’s the case, and their payment history has been solid up to that point, it would be foolish to get rid of a good tenant who fell into a bad situation. On the other hand, if the problem will take more than a few weeks to resolve, then your best course of action is to get them out of the rental unit. You can’t have a tenant living rent-free for an extended period of time. In order to do that with the least amount of drama possible, we suggest making the tenant an offer that they can’t refuse.

One attractive offer would be to give the tenant a 5 to 7 day window for packing, cleaning, and moving out of the unit. And as a reward for their cooperation, you agree not to pursue any back rent. You also agree not to file a lawsuit or eviction papers. Going the legal route for removing a tenant can be timely and expensive. It will also cost you significantly more than the back rent they owe you in most cases. So it’s one of those situations where you are better off simply cutting your losses. For the tenant, they will also avoid having an eviction on their credit report. This is huge because an eviction will destroy their FICO score for several years. Once that happens, it can be incredibly difficult to do anything in life that requires a credit check for approval.

Most tenants experiencing financial difficulties will jump at an offer like that. Even if it’s not what they want to do, it will keep them out of court and protect their credit. If they are still on the fence, however, you can sweeten the deal by using the “Cash for Keys” technique. This is when you offer the tenant a specific amount of money, typically a few hundred dollars, in exchange for the keys to their unit . It might not seem like a lot, but it might really help them out with gas and moving expenses. This could be the difference between the tenant accepting or rejecting your offer. But at the end of the day, when it comes to dealing with a tenant who is behind on the rent, communication is critical!

Discuss the problem in order to find the best solution.

  1. Comment by Robert
    February 12th at 11:04 am 

    It would be a good idea in how to deal with tenants. However, when dealing with rogue landlords they do not care and will commence eviction right away without asking a single question or caring about credit damage or else. Landlords who are large proprietors and/or management companies DO NOT CARE about their tenants well being, do not do repairs on time or none at all but do demand their rent on time or face guess what. Eviction!!!

  2. Comment by Deborah
    February 12th at 11:54 am 

    Maybe in California and other states it could be effective to offer not to pursue back rent if the tenant will clean (imagine that) and vacate in 5-7 days — but not in Tennessee. I have two Memphis properties, have lost thousands in back rent over the last few years, and have no hope of ever seeing a dime of it. Why? Because in Tennessee, the tenant has to appear in court to be served a money judgment (or so I understand), so of course they just don’t show up. I may try the “cash for keys” idea next time, though.

  3. Comment by Dan Ringwald
    February 12th at 12:35 pm 

    As a landlord I see a very common trend. There are tenants who pay on time all the time and there are tenants that pay late all the time and eventually stop paying completely. Just as all money on property is made on the purchase all or at least the majority of tenant problems are solve if properly screened. Check my web site link for proper tenant screening.

  4. Comment by Winston Churchill
    February 12th at 12:39 pm 

    Why should the landlord worry about being caring and compassionate? Regardless of the tenant’s circumstances, there is a contract in place with terms that all parties are bound to through execution. The right thing for the tenant to do is to either make good on the contract or to vacate. This notion that we have to reward or coerce the tenant to do the right thing is why we have such serious problems in this country. It’s called inability to accept personal responsibility or accountability. We need to stop rewarding people for bad behavior. Granted people are struggling today because of the manufactured crisis forced upon our country by subversives but moral people do the right thing regardless of their personal circumstances. And, Robert, why should the management companies be concerned with the tenant’s well being? If they represent the landlord, they owe the landlord fiduciary responsibility. We are talking about mutually beneficial agreements here and if one party breaches then the other party suffers. Why should the landlord suffer because the tenant can’t meet his/her obligation? Your thinking is misguided. How much does one have to give of themselves before they are in a worse situation than the person they are trying to help? Should a person’s word or signature on an agreement no longer mean anything? If that’s the case, then why bother making the agreement in the first place?

  5. Comment by Dan
    February 12th at 2:11 pm 

    Wow that is the most naive point of view regarding non payment of rent i have ever heard. All state laws build in waiting period and time to cure a default. If you don’t start that clock ticking the first day you legally can you are an idiot. Don’t ever take partial payments. Lifes priorites are food, heat, shelter, then all else. Once a resident understands that you damn sure will throw them out, you’ll notice a nice improvement in cashflow. NO ONE cuts me any slack not the city, the bank, vendors. It is not fair to the other residents of a property to let others slide. When casflow tightens repairs are deferred and the death spiral begins…Can’t pay…I understand…time to move out…I’ll release you on the lease if the property is in great shape when you move out. Compassion is built into the law…If you can no longer afford the space, Sorry but you need to go!

  6. Comment by another landlord
    February 12th at 3:43 pm 

    I somewhat agree with Winston Churchill. We have several properties and most of them has been with us as tenant 3 or 4 yrs. Some have fallen through hard times but we work with them. I do agree you have to screen them out. There are some “professional renter” that just does not care or have no morals or ethics or conscience. They also think that since you are the landlord, you should be able to carry the losses. But, i do believe that some people are decent and responsible. It is your job as a landlord to sort them out. Letters (certified) and e-mails is your best defense. After the 15th of the month, if they have not paid, send them a reminder. No one is perfect and we all need reminders once in awhile. Otherwise, you will be condoning the lateness of them paying rent.

  7. Comment by Dan
    February 13th at 9:47 am 

    @another landlord. Carry the losses…reminder after the 15th…Clearly written by a deadbeat resident posing as a property owner. Ya send them a letter…you kill me….hahaha. Oh you mean rent is due every month? Reminder my ass… scram deadbeat.

  8. Comment by bobwhite
    February 16th at 7:58 am 

    As a landlord I have had renters not pay, do over $4000. in damages , not fix the damages and then want their deposit back. I finally turned my houses over to a management company and they deal with the problems.
    One renter over the past three years paid on time all but two months and then had to pay late fees. The other renter has been late every month. He had the money because he bought an expensive boat, but didn’t pay the rent until forced to and finally was evicited. A contract is put in place for a reason.

  9. Comment by Nancy Mitchell
    February 18th at 3:52 pm 

    I have two small rentals that I depend on for my own livelihood. If they don’t pay the rent on time, I can’t pay my bills. When I rent one of the units, I ask for a year lease, then give them a $50 a month discount for rent paid on time. If they don’t pay on time, I add the $50 to the following month. I have the number of an eviction attorney in my Rolodex – no rent within 15 days, they get a 3-day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. If no rent then, I immediately go to the attorney and file an Unlawful Detainer. It may cost me $1000, but it’s cheaper than going for even one month without rent.

  10. Comment by Brooke
    February 20th at 1:54 pm 

    The blog post outlines good strategies for maintaining a reputation as a landlord for being compassionate and caring – which is important. Paying your bills and staying on top of contracts is also important as a landlord. But if you appear heartless to tenants, who will want to move in? Everyone’s comments reflect real life circumstances and realities, but I appreciate the viewpoint that Marco outlines. It’s important to work with tenants and not against them, especially in simple “bad luck” situations (different from irresponsible, no-good tenant situations).

  11. Comment by Nancy Mitchell
    February 27th at 11:27 am 

    I have to make a comment about being “compassionate.” The bank is not compassionate. The utility companies are not compassionate. When a rental is the roof over your head, you can’t afford to be a deadbeat and expect the landlord to be “compassionate” when you don’t pay the rent. There was one instant when I PAID a tenant to vacate, providing she left the place spotless. She actually did leave it clean, so it was worth the extra $1,000 to get her out. This same tenant started out with herself and two sons. Later on she moved in her ex husband, her niece with three kids and two dogs. I was happy to get her out, believe me.

  12. Comment by Prince
    March 10th at 12:29 pm 

    Reading all the comments here were informative. one thing I will say as a landlord is there are tenants you can work with and there are those, you cannot. With the ones you cannot work with, get them out quickly and replace them with new ones, to replace the lost cashflow.

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