What Do I Say to Tenants Who Have Not Paid Their Rent?

What Do I Say to Tenants Who Have Not Paid Their Rent?
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Dealing with tenants who owe you late rent is often tricky. You want to get the money you're owed so you can pay your bills without losing a good tenant or violating any local laws. You also may have to wait longer to evict a tenant for nonpayment if you don't request late rent using the legal procedures for landlords in the rental area. How you should approach past due tenants is influenced by your relationship with them and your own comfort levels with the situation.

Review Tenant History

For a tenant you've had for a long time, such as a year or more, review her payment history. A good history might indicate the late rent is a temporary setback and won't happen again, so you can take a more informal approach. Tenants who usually pay late, have caused trouble or just moved in require a more formal approach.

Informal Approach

Call your tenant and ask why the rent is late. You may visit the tenant in person, but you can't show up unannounced and enter the unit without her permission just to ask about rent under many state laws. Consider her response before you propose any solutions. For example, if the tenant had an unexpected financial emergency but promises to pay in full, ask for a payment date. You can offer to make a payment arrangement with the tenant if she can make a partial payment, but you should put it in writing. Keep track of partial payments and late fees until the rent is paid in full.

Formal Action

You'll need to make more formal past due rent requests in writing. The notices often act as the first step to terminating a non-paying tenant's lease and eviction. You'll find what you need to state in your notice in your local laws. For example, in California the notice must have the date, the tenant's name, rental unit identification, the months owed, the rent total due, late fees, a payment address, and the landlord's contact information and signature.


A tenant who refuses to talk to you warrants a formal approach, as well as one who breaks a payment arrangement or promises to pay in full but misses the payment date. You can't start eviction proceedings until you give the tenants formal written notice of past due rent. State and local laws give tenants a number of days after receiving a past due rent notice to pay before a lease is terminated, so make sure you honor the correct waiting period. For instance, in Illinois you have to wait five days after the date you gave the tenant the notice and days you're unable to receive rent don't count. You have to take the rent if the tenant pays in full within the five days.