Tenant's Duty to Pay Rent

The lease agreement sets out the tenant's obligation to pay rent. Under the lease agreement, the tenant must pay the rent by a certain date. Typically, the lease requires that the landlord have the rent by the 1st or 15th of each month. If the payment of rent is late, there is usually a late fee charged. The late fee can be a set amount, such as $25, a daily fee or a percentage of the monthly rent.

When is the rent due?

On time. Depending on your lease, it could be any day of the month; however, if it is the first of the month, your landlord must have it in hand on or before that day. Check your lease carefully; the rent may be due by a certain time as well. If you have forgotten, are stuck at work and the rent was due by 6 p.m., it will be late if you pay it at 7 p.m.

What happens if I pay the rent late?

You will probably owe a late fee. Leases commonly permit landlords to charge tenants a fee for failing to pay the rent on the day it is due. The fee is either a set amount or a percentage of the rent. Check your lease for a provision titled "Late Charges" or "Late Fees" to find out what your will be charged for a late rental payment.

Late charges can be assessed on a daily basis, such as $25 for every day you are late, which can add up quickly. If the rent is due Friday, and you fail to pay on time, you may be stuck with 2 days' worth of late fees if the management office is closed over the weekend.

TIP: If you are constantly late paying your rent, even a day or 2, your lease may not be renewed and you will suffer the inconvenience of having to move. Mark every month of your calendar on the date rent is due. You can also put the date into your e-mail system or electronic organizer. If you do not think you can keep up with the rent due dates, write out all the checks in advance and keep them in a prominent place so you can grab that month's rent and drop it by the management office on your way in or out of the property.

TIP: If you have been a good tenant and have previously paid your rent on time, be apologetic if you are late and ask the property manager if she will waive the fee.

If I put my rent in the mail on the day it is due, has it been paid on time?

No. Your lease almost certainly requires rent to be delivered to the landlord or property manager on or before the due date.

Do I have to take my rent payment to the landlord or management office?

You can typically mail your rent check or place it in a receptacle designated for rent in the management office. However, if your lease agreement sets out a specific process for paying rent, you must follow it. For example, if you are renting from a private individual, he may require you to leave the check at his office and get a receipt from the receptionist. Taking your rent in person to the management office helps establish a relationship between you and the property manager that may be to your advantage in the long run.

When I hand over my rent to the landlord, am I paying last month or next month's rent?

You are paying next month's rent. The tenant pays at the beginning of the rental period. This is why the landlord requires advance rent when you sign the lease agreement.

Caution: Your rent is "payable without demand." In other words, the landlord is not required to notify you that the rent is due. It is up to the tenant to pay promptly.

I have signed a lease but cannot move in for a month. Do I still owe rent for first month even if I am not there?

Yes. If your delay is not the landlord's fault, you are required to pay the rent due under the lease. This situation is no different from one where you left for a month on a vacation; you would have to pay rent for that month as well.

If you are unable to move in because the landlord is remodeling or the last tenant has not moved out, the rent is usually "abated" for every day of the delay. For example, if construction in your $600-a-month apartment has kept you from moving in for 5 days, you may deduct $100 from that month's rent ($20 per day x 5 days).

You may be able to terminate the lease entirely because of the landlord's delay. If you cannot wait until the apartment is ready, the lease typically allows you to terminate it and find another place to live. Read your lease carefully if you receive notification from the landlord that your move-in date is being delayed.

What forms of payment are accepted for rent?

Personal checks are the most common way that rent is paid, but you can also pay in cash, a cashier's check or money order. Some landlords also accept debit cards and credit cards.

A landlord can refuse to take personal checks. He can and will charge a fee is the check is returned unpaid for nonsufficient funds (NSF fee). The NSF fee is usually noted in the lease agreement.

TIP: Try to pay your rent in person and get a receipt for each month's payment. You will get an opportunity to know the property manager and develop a rapport; she may then be more approachable if you have a problem.

Can I be evicted for paying my rent a few days late every month?

Not if the landlord keeps accepting your rental payments. However, if you have always paid late but refuse to pay a late fee, the landlord can try to evict you for nonpayment of those fees.

I was notified that the locks are being changed on my apartment. Can the landlord lock me out because I did not pay my rent on time?

Yes. Most states have enacted laws that allow landlords to "lock out" tenants for late payment of rent after the tenant has been notified. If you do not want to be locked out, you must bring your current rent plus pay any late fees.

A lockout does not mean that you cannot get back into your apartment. You must be given access to a key 24 hours a day.

Is there a limit on rent amounts?

Only in cases where rent is stabilized or controlled. Otherwise, landlords rent at the highest amount they are able to obtain. In locations without adequate housing and no rent controls, rents may be very high.

Can rent be increased while I am renting?

During the period the period of time that the lease agreement is in effect, the rent amount cannot change.

When I move out, can I apply my security deposit to the last month's rent?

No. You continue to owe rent until the lease is terminated. The landlord is holding your security deposit to ensure you will comply with certain terms of the lease, such as giving notice and leaving the premises in good condition. If the deposit is used in place of the rent, then the landlord is left without a security deposit and has no way to cover the cost of repairing your damage to the property, if any.

Can someone else pay my rent?

Yes, as long as the landlord accepts the payment. For example, if your son is paying your rent, the landlord can accept his check for that month's rent payment.

When the landlord accepts a rental payment from someone else for the month, you do not owe for that month. However, you are still obligated to pay the rent on the remaining months of the lease. If your son, from the example above, pays the June rent, the landlord still looks to you for the July payment. He does not have to wait for your son to make the payment; he can and will demand the July rent from you. Additionally, if the rent is late, you will be charged any late fees.

Withholding the Rent

Under some circumstances a tenant may withhold the rent. However, this option is not advised unless the tenant has talked to an attorney. Some laws allow "rent strikes," permitting the tenant to withhold rent as long as the landlord is not meeting the minimum standards in city housing codes. The landlord must have been notified of the unsafe and unhealthy conditions and have refused to make repairs before a tenant can withhold the rent or go on a rent strike.

In other states, laws prohibit the tenant from withholding rent to force repairs. Withholding rent will, at a minimum, cause the tenant to incur a late fee and may induce the landlord to begin eviction proceedings.

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