What to Do If You Can't Pay Rent on Time

Here are some dos and don'ts of paying rent late—including how to negotiate a partial or delayed rent payment.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Rare is the tenant who's never had a problem paying rent on time or in full. If you are a conscientious and honest tenant who is temporarily short on funds, most landlords won't evict you for paying rent a little late one month. To avoid problems, follow this advice.

Try to Negotiate a Partial or Delayed Rent Payment

You're more likely to be successful (and avoid an eviction lawsuit) by being up front with your landlord about your situation, and asking for an extension. A landlord who considers you a good tenant won't want to lose you: Evictions are difficult and expensive, and once you're out, the landlord will have to find and move in new tenants. This means you can probably get the landlord to accept a portion of the rent now—maybe even a small portion—and the rest later. Here are some basic steps to take:

  • Ask your landlord in writing (as far in advance as possible) for a few extra days.
  • Explain your difficulties and emphasize (if you can) that they are only temporary.
  • Offer (if at all possible) to pay at least some of the rent on time.
  • Give your landlord written assurance of your plan to pay the full rent by a certain date, such as the 15th of the month—and make sure you keep your promise.
  • Explain that the problem won't happen again and that you'll pay your rent on time in the future.
  • Be prepared to pay a late fee if the landlord has a late fee policy. Or, if you think your landlord will be responsive and your late rent is a rare occurrence, ask your landlord to waive any late fee.

Don't Ignore the Problem and Hope It Will Go Away

It's likely that your landlord is counting on your timely check to cover the mortgage payment on the rental. Because the bank won't forgive your landlord's tardiness, your landlord can't afford to ignore yours. And it's equally naive to think that you can ignore the landlord's phone calls or emails.

Never Send a Check You Know Will Bounce

Nothing infuriates a landlord more than dealing with a sneaky tenant who consistently bounces rent checks. Stirring up your landlord's ire isn't the only consequence of a bad check: Keep in mind that sending a worthless check (or one that's not signed) is like sending no rent at all. If your landlord has a late fee policy, it will kick in regardless of your bounced check; and, a bounced check is grounds to terminate your tenancy.

Like any other business, your landlord has the legal right to charge you if your rent check bounces. The charge must be reasonable—such as the amount the bank charges for a returned check, probably $20 to $50 per returned item, plus a few dollars for the landlord's trouble.

Your landlord should tell you in advance—in the lease or rental agreement, orally, or by means of an obvious sign in the rental office where you bring your monthly check—that a bounced check fee will be imposed.

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