What to do if you cannot pay your rent on time

There are few feelings worse than having bills come due when you know you can’t pay them. It’s even worse when those bills are for your mortgage or rent.

If you don’t make your rent payment on time, your rental agreement should spell out quite clearly what will happen. Laws vary from state-to-state, but it’s very likely a late payment will cost you – first in additional fees, and eventually in a potential eviction.

So if your due date is coming up and you aren’t able to pay, here are a few steps you should take in order to protect yourself as best as you can.

Don’t assume a grace period

Many landlords offer a grace period of a few days after the due date to make your payment. This means that if rent is due on the 1st, you may be okay waiting until the 3rd to pay. However, landlords are not required to offer any sort of grace period. If there is a grace period, that should be stated in your lease. Don’t assume you have more time to make a payment unless your landlord has specifically told you otherwise.

Don’t send a check that won’t clear

Bouncing a check will not buy you time. Sending an unsigned check won’t buy you time, either. Making an intentional “mistake” will likely only dig the hole deeper. There’s a very good chance that your rental agreement contains language covering what happens if you bounce a check – usually a fee.

Reach out to your landlord immediately

Contact your landlord as soon as you know you won’t be able to pay your rent on time. You can make a formal request in writing for an extension on your due date. Your landlord isn’t required to grant your request, but if you give them plenty of warning they may be able to work with you. Remember – landlords also have payments to make on your property. Failure to pay without warning can put them in a difficult position.

Offer to pay a portion of the rent on time

Again, if you’re looking for leniency, the more you can do to accommodate your landlord, the better. If you can pay a portion of the rent on time, and you’re able to provide a firm date when you can pay the rest, that shows you’re making a good faith effort to meet your obligations.

Request a waiver on your late fee

If you’ve taken the steps to inform your landlord well in advance of the issue and made good on your promise to pay at a later time, your landlord may be willing to waive the customary late fee, especially if you’ve never had any issues before. At the very least, it never hurts to ask.

If you have a sustained inability to pay your rent, emergency rent assistance may be available. Be sure to take action as soon as it’s clear you don’t have the ability to pay.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.