Landlord Laws - When a Tenant Refuses to Pay Rent

Landlord Laws - When a Tenant Refuses to Pay Rent
••• Hemera Technologies/ Images

The landlord and tenant relationship has the potential to provide both parties with benefits. The agreement between these parties can last for years, but when one party fails to hold up his end of the bargain, the relationship suffers. Tenants agree to pay an amount to the property owner for the right to live in the residence and landlords have remedies when this important agreement breaks down.

Lease Agreements

The lease agreement is often the contract a landlord and tenant use to outline the terms of the rental arrangement. The landlord and tenant determine the terms of the rental agreement, such as the amount of the rent, when it is due and the consequences of not paying on time. A lease agreement should identify the property owner, the tenant and any person the landlord designates as a rent collector or manager. Landlord must provide the tenant with the name and address of the person that may receive documents and rent payments for the property. An agreement between a landlord and tenant may be in writing or an oral agreement. Landlords may not evict tenants for breaches of the lease agreement unless it is specified in the contract with the exception of failure to pay rent.

Rent Withholding

Tenants may withhold rent from the landlord under specific circumstances in some areas. Circumstances, such as failure to maintain the property in a habitable condition or make repairs, may allow the tenant to stop paying rent to the property owner. In most cases, the tenant must deposit the amount of the rent with the state until the landlord makes the necessary repairs. Tenants may use the landlords failure to maintain the property as a defense in an eviction for non-payment.

Notice to Quit

If the tenant is not withholding rent because the landlord failed to maintain the property or make repairs, the landlord may begin the process to remove the renter from the residence. Landlords must provide a three- to five-day notice before filing an eviction with the court. The notice may give the tenant an opportunity to pay back rent or vacate the property. States vary in the requirement to provide the tenant with an opportunity to pay the back rent. For example, Wisconsin provides landlords with two notice options. The landlord may provide the tenant with a five-day notice to pay back rent or vacate or he may serve the tenant with a 14-day notice to vacate without an opportunity to pay the back rent.


Landlords must wait until the term of the notice expires before filing an eviction with the court. The court will set a date to hear the eviction case and make a decision on behalf of the landlord or the tenant. Renters must file an answer with the court and appear on the date of the eviction hearing. The hearing provides the tenant with a chance to offer a defense to the eviction procedure. If the court finds in favor of the landlord, the tenant must vacate the property in the time the court determines. The court may require the landlord pay for a sheriff to remove the tenant from the residence.