Tenants can be late on paying their rent for a variety of reasons. Some may present excusable cases of unavoidable delay, while others require a less lenient approach. Most residential leases give tenants at least a few days of leeway so that they don't find themselves constantly paying late fees. At times, however, a tenant will not pay the rent for several weeks, and a landlord must send letters requesting payment of both the rent and a late fee.
If this continues, a landlord may have no choice but to begin the eviction process. It is generally considered good practice to send written notice of a failure to pay rent as provided for in the lease as if the landlord intended to follow through with eviction proceedings. In actuality, most landlords recognize the costs and time involved in formal eviction proceedings, so they prefer to negotiate a way for the tenant to catch up on late rent payments.
Review the Lease's Terms and Applicable Law
Read the lease agreement thoroughly to make sure the tenant is definitely in breach of the agreement due to a failure to pay rent when due. The lease should also provide for a method to calculate late fees, as well as state the procedure you and the tenant agreed upon in case of a late or missing payment, including a timetable for eviction procedures, if different from the procedure provided under your state's law.
Checking the lease will help you ensure that you are acting within your rights while also protecting the tenant's rights. Likewise, you should look up your state's eviction laws. Each state has different laws governing evictions, so the process will differ depending on your location.
Draft a Non-Payment of Rent Letter
Write a single-page letter to remind your tenant that his payment is overdue or missing. Your letter should be concise, straightforward and business-like in tone and content. It should be typed and formatted like a business letter. Use the tenant's full legal name as spelled out in the lease and state that you will be sending the letter via certified mail with a return receipt requested to prove that the tenant receives the letter.
In the body of the letter, cite the lease agreement directly. You may even want to quote the provision regarding payment of rent and any late fees verbatim. Conclude the letter by demanding the immediate payment of the past due rent along with any late fees. This letter should also give the tenant a deadline to remit payment.
Second Notice and Notice to Quit
If you do not receive payment by the date indicated in your first letter, then you'll need to send the second follow-up letter. Remind the tenant that payment is overdue and that further nonpayment will result in eviction, as indicated in your lease agreement and as provided by state laws.
Prepare a Notice to Quit or formal eviction notice. Depending on the state, this may require a specific form, which you may find on the court's website or at your local clerk of court's office. Whether you send a form or a letter, it should give the tenant the specified number of days, which can range from three to 10 or more calendar days measured from receipt of the notice to vacate the property.
Send the Notice to Quit (or other formal follow-up letter) by certified mail, and request a return receipt to ensure that your tenant received the notice.
Subsequent Proceedings to Evict
If the tenant fails to respond by the specified deadline and does not vacate the property after receiving due notice, you will need to institute formal proceedings to force the issue. You will need to fill out and file a complaint for eviction with the clerk of the appropriate court with jurisdiction over eviction and other landlord/tenant legal issues.
Typically, the initial filing will also need to be accompanied by a copy of your lease agreement, copies of your formal notices to the tenant of the overdue rent, and proof that the tenant received these notices (i.e., your receipt from the letter you sent via certified mail with a return receipt requested). You will also usually be asked to pay a filing fee, which is generally set by statute and may be a few hundred dollars.
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