I’m hoping you can help us. We’re new landlords, having bought some income property last year. One of our tenants has been consistently late on rent, but until recently, they always eventually made it up. Now, though, they are almost two months behind. We’d like to get our back rent and then get them out. What is our next step? Thanks.
Your options will depend on whether your tenants have a fixed-term lease, or rent month-to-month.
When tenants who have a lease are late with the rent, the landlord’s first step is to send a written notice, known as a “pay or quit” notice, telling the tenants that unless they pay the rent within the specified period of time (three to five days is common), they must move out. If they do neither, the landlord can start eviction proceedings.
Most states recognize that landlords have a finite amount of patience with chronic late-payers. They give owners the right to terminate the lease without giving the tenant a chance to pay if the tenant has been late more than a certain number of times within a specified time period. Landlords can’t confidently take advantage of this remedy, however, unless they sent the pay or quit notices in the past.
If you did not send any notices, chances are you’ll need to give these tenants yet another chance to pay the long-overdue rent. If they do not pay within the specified time but don't move out, you can proceed to file an eviction. In the lawsuit, you can demand back rent (you can also use the security deposit for this purpose). If your tenants do move out, and the security deposit won't cover the unpaid rent, you'll need to go to small claims court to sue for the balance.
If your tenants rent month-to-month, you can terminate by giving the legally-required amount of notice in your state (often, it's 30 days). To terminate a month-to-month tenant, you do not have to give or have a reason, but your reason must not be discriminatory or retaliatory. Feeling fed-up with constant late rent payments isn't discriminatory or retaliatory, which means that your termination should stand up in court if your tenants challenge you.
Check your state laws to find out how much notice you must give, then be sure to not accept rent for any time past the ending date you enter on the termination notice.