How to Handle a Tenant Who Isn't Paying Rent

How to Handle a Tenant Who Isn't Paying Rent

Last Updated: December 5, 2023 by Jessica Menefee

Generally the ultimate solution for a tenant who doesn’t pay is to evict them. However, there are other strategies you can use to try to avoid this worst-case scenario. If it does come to eviction, the process varies by state.

When is Rent Considered Late?

Rent is due on the date listed in the lease agreement, and is considered late the following day. In the event that rent is due on a weekend or holiday, most landlords will specify in the lease agreement that rent is due the next business day.

The payment method may also affect when a landlord receives the payment. For instance, if a tenant pays rent by mail or ACH it can take a few days for the payment to process.

Some states require a grace period before a landlord can charge a late fee.


If rent is due on the 1st, and a tenant in Connecticut with a typical 1-year lease doesn’t pay until the 7th – they cannot be charged a late fee as the state offers a 9-day grace period.

State Required Grace Period for Late Fees
Arizona 5 days (mobile homes)
None (other housing types)
Colorado 7 days
Connecticut 4 days (week-to-week lease agreements)
9 days (all other lease agreements)
Delaware 5 days (except the grace period is 8 days if rent can’t be paid in person within the same county as the residence)
Maine 15 days
Massachusetts 30 days
Nevada None (week-to-week lease agreements)
3 days (all other lease agreements)
New Jersey 5 business days (certain senior tenants)
None (other tenants)
New York 5 days
North Carolina 5 days
Oregon 4 days
Tennessee 5 days (if 6th day is a Sunday or holiday, due date is the next business day)
Texas 2 days
Virginia None (with written lease agreement)
5 days (if there is no written lease agreement)
Washington 5 days
Washington D.C. 5 days

5 Steps to Handle A Tenant Who Didn’t Pay Rent

Here are simple steps to handle a tenant who didn’t pay rent:

  1. Review Eviction Laws
  2. Talk to Your Tenant
  3. Explore Alternative Solutions to Eviction
  4. Send a Pay Rent or Quit Notice
  5. File an Eviction Action

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1. Review Eviction Laws

Each state has its own laws that affect how landlords can handle nonpayment of rent. Depending on your location, you may have to give tenants a grace period, followed by an eviction notice. Tenants could have up to 3 weeks or more to pay rent before being required to move out.

Check out the table below for the requirements in your state:

State Required Eviction notice Time to Move Out After Ruling
Alabama 7 days 7 days
Alaska 7 days No statute
Arizona 5 days 12 hours to 5 days
Arkansas 3 or 10 days 24 hours
California 3 days 5 days
Colorado 10 days Writ cannot be issued for 48 hours
Connecticut 3 days Writ cannot be issued for 5 days + 24 hours
Delaware 5 days Writ cannot be issued for 10 days + 24 hours
Florida 3 days 24 hours
Georgia Not specified Writ cannot be issued for 7 days
Hawaii 5 days No statute
Idaho 3 days Must move immediately or 5 days
Illinois 5 days 7- 14 days
Indiana 10 days 48 or 72 hours
Iowa 3 days 3 days
Kansas 3 days Up to 14 days
Kentucky 7 days 7 days
Louisiana 5 or 20 days 24 hours
Maine 7 days if no written lease Writ cannot be issued for 7 days + 48 hours
Maryland No written notice required Up to 60 days + writ cannot be issued for 4 days
Massachusetts 14 days Writ cannot be issued for 10 days + 48 hours
Michigan 7 days Writ cannot be issued for 10 days
Minnesota No written notice required 24 hours
Mississippi 3 days No statute for nonpayment
Missouri Not specified Writ cannot be issued for 5 days + 24 hours – 5 additional days
Montana 3 days No statute
Nebraska 7 days 10 days
Nevada 7 days Writ cannot be issued for 5 business days + 24 – 36 hours
New Hampshire 7 days Writ cannot be issued for 5 – 7 days
New Jersey No written notice required Writ cannot be issued for 3 business days + 3 – 7 additional days
New Mexico 3 days 3 – 7 days
New York 14 days 10 or 14 days
North Carolina 10 days Writ cannot be issued for 10 days + move out immediately after writ receipt or up to 5 additional days
North Dakota 3 days No statute
Ohio 3 days Up to 10 days
Oklahoma 5 or 10 days 48 hours
Oregon 72 or 144 hours Writ cannot be issued for 4 days
Pennsylvania 10 days Writ cannot be issued for 5 days + 10 additional days
Rhode Island 5 days Writ cannot be issued for 6 days
South Carolina 5 days 24 hours
South Dakota 3 days No statute
Tennessee 7 or 14 days Writ cannot be issued for 10 days
Texas 3 days Writ cannot be issued for 6 days + 24 hours
Utah 3 days Must move immediately or 3 days
Vermont 14 days 5 or 14 days
Virginia 5 days Writ cannot be issued for 10 days + 72 hours
Washington 14 days 3 – 5 days
West Virginia No written notice required No statute
Wisconsin 5, 14 or 30 days Up to 10 days
Wyoming 3 days Up to 2 days

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2. Talk to Your Tenant

There is a chance that there is a very simple reason for non-payment. Your tenant may have forgotten, changed banks, or didn’t change the information for an expired card.

Having a conversation before filing an eviction case, offers your tenant an opportunity to correct the issue without any legal repercussions. They may also offer information that can help you plan ahead if there is an issue that will keep them from paying.

3. Explore Alternative Solutions to Eviction

A tenant may face an issue such as a health issue or an unexpected job loss that may keep them from paying. Landlords have a few options that can help an otherwise high-quality tenant from being evicted as well as the high cost of eviction including:

  • Setting up a temporary payment plan
  • Pushing the due date back
  • Offering cash for keys

Be sure that any special agreement is signed and in writing. A tenant could make false claims in court about your deal and cost you in court and lawyer fees.

Setting Up a Temporary Payment Plan

Making small payments on the rent (temporarily) can be a great step towards a resolution.

For example, If a tenant has a change in employment, it can take a few weeks for them to get paid. They may not have $1,200 but they do have $600. They can pay $600 now, and $600 next week and start making their normal payments again next month.

Being willing to work with your tenant in this type of situation can help you maintain an otherwise excellent tenant.

Pushing the Due Date Back

Life can sometimes get in the way of consistent payments. Let’s say a great tenant went into early labor unexpectedly on the 31st, but rent is due on the 1st. It would be a common courtesy to offer the tenant a few extra days to pay the rent.

Offering Cash for Keys

If you know the tenant cannot make the payment and won’t be able to make a payment anytime soon, it’s a good idea to consider offering cash for keys. While it can be an unexpected expense, it will help you gain control of the property quickly without having to evict the tenant.

This can also help you complete the tenant turnover process more quickly and allow you to fill the unit with a highly qualified paying tenant.

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4. Send a Pay Rent or Quit Notice

A pay rent or quit notice is used when a tenant owes you rent. It is one of the first steps in the eviction process. This formal notice helps show the tenant that you are serious about pursuing legal action if they don’t pay the owed rent.

Be sure to check local laws to ensure you are following all requirements, including:

  • Contents of the eviction notice
  • The process for legally delivering the notice

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5. File an Eviction Action

If the tenant has not paid the rent or tried to work out a solution, the landlord should file an eviction action with the court. The actual eviction process varies by state, so be sure to understand your local laws.

An eviction can take between 3 – 30 days or longer, and cost up to $10,000. So, it’s important to be prepared to handle the property expenses and legal fees during this time.

Landlords may also have to attend an eviction hearing and serve a tenant a copy of the eviction complaint. If the judge rules in your favor, ensure you understand the laws of your state. Some states allow tenants a few additional days to move out.

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What Happens If a Tenant Won’t Leave After An Eviction Ruling?

Sometimes, even after a judge rules in your favor, a tenant may still be physically occupying your property. A tenant can challenge the court ruling which may add additional time for them to stay.

In some states, tenants can pay the full amount of past-due rent even after the eviction hearing to avoid eviction.

If you have a writ of possession, you can take it to the local sheriff or constable to schedule an assisted move-out date.

Landlords should NOT attempt to remove the tenant themselves. This is often referred to as a self-help eviction and includes:

  • Changing the locks
  • Removing the tenants’ possessions when they aren’t home
  • Turning off utilities
  • Refusing repairs
  • Preventing the tenant from physically entering the space
  • Threatening the tenant

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How to Avoid Late Rent Payments

Establishing a consistent and clear policy for rental payments can help landlords avoid late rent payments. They can also implement a few tools to help keep the tenants on track, including:

  • Send rent-due reminders – Many online payment portals offer automatic reminders
  • Use automatic payment options – Offer tenants a rental payment service that charges rent automatically, this can help ensure you get paid on time
  • Offer a variety of payment options – Tenants may also be waiting for their paycheck to clear, offering a variety of payment options, such as a credit card, can help ensure the rent gets paid
  • Charge consistent late fees  If tenants believe you have a relaxed payment policy, they may not feel any sense of urgency to pay on time. Charging late fees consistently (after the grace period, if applicable) sets a precedent that rent needs to be paid on time

Does Landlord Insurance Cover Unpaid Rent?

It depends on the policy. However, most insurance policies do not cover the cost of unpaid rent if a tenant fails to pay.