Tenant Not Paying Rent and Won't Leave? Explore Your Options

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By Steve Nicastro Updated October 10, 2023
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Edited by Jenny Rollins

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If your tenant isn't paying rent and won't leave the property, you can take steps to solve the problem now.

The best approach depends on the amount of rent due, the reason for delayed payment, the terms of the lease, and local landlord-tenant laws.

Eviction isn’t always the best option. Depending on your situation, you can:

Here are the best strategies for navigating such a delicate situation.

» Tired of being a landlord? Get cash offers for free today with Clever Offers

Tenant not paying rent? Here are your options

Before you make any major decisions, we recommend consulting a lawyer and reviewing your local laws and lease. Then you can find a solution based on what your tenant’s situation is.

Tenant situationPossible solution
Slightly behind on rent (1–2 months)Make a plan to get finances on track
Deeply behind on rent (3+ months)Work out a repayment plan
Unforeseen financial hardshipApply for federal assistance
Refusing to pay or leave the propertyOffer cash for keys
Still won't leave after all the other solutionsConsider eviction or selling the property

Slightly behind on rent (1–2 months)

If this is the first time your tenant is late on rent and is only around a month late, find out why. Then you can make a plan to get payment back on track.

Approach your tenant with curiosity and compassion. Ask them why the payment is late. If they have a legitimate reason, find a solution for both parties.

One option is offering a few weeks grace period with no rent charges while the tenant gets their finances together.

If the tenant doesn't have a good reason or has been late on rent multiple times, they might be withholding rent. In that case, candidly discuss the issue and consider charging a late fee (if applicable).

Deeply behind on rent (3+ months)

If a tenant is very late on their rent payment, you can create a long-term repayment plan. Repayment plans typically involve smaller, more frequent payments to help tenants catch up.

When creating a repayment plan, you need to establish clear terms and conditions. Consider:

  • How much to charge per payment
  • How often payments will be due (weekly or bi-weekly)
  • When payments revert to the regular monthly rate
  • What happens if the tenant continues to miss payments or pays late

Facing an unforeseen financial hardship

Sometimes a tenant might be late on a payment because of issues like job loss, illness, or a death in the family. In this case, you can make a repayment plan or apply for federal rent assistance.

Emergency rental assistance programs provide funds for financially struggling landlords and tenants. Some programs also provide resources like job training and home repair assistance.

The availability of these programs varies by area. View the CFPB website for more information.

Refusing to pay rent or leave the property

1. Offer cash for keys

Cash for keys is a one-time cash payment to the tenant to leave the property. Investors often use this strategy to avoid expensive evictions and lawsuits. The amount is typically half a month to a full month's rent plus the security deposit.

Investors often use cash for keys to avoid costly, time-consuming evictions and lawsuits. This strategy usually takes a few days, and evictions take at least a month and sometimes much longer.

Make sure you make this a formal, written agreement. We recommend consulting an attorney and reviewing local landlord-tenant laws before proceeding.

2. Sell the property to an investor

You can legally sell a property with tenants who are behind on rent. Selling to an investor can save you time, money, and stress compared to selling on the open market.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • The investor manages the tenant issue after closing.
  • Selling to an investor is usually fast (2–3 weeks instead of months to sell on the open market).
  • Investors often pay for properties in cash and in as-is condition. So you won't have to deal with inspections, repairs, negotiations, or financing underwriting. The streamlined process reduces the work you have to do during closing.

The biggest downside of selling is that investors often pay less than fair market value. But that might not be as much as your potential losses if you hold onto a property with a tenant who's not paying rent.

If you decide you want to sell to an investor, you have a few options:

  • Use a cash home-buying platform. Platforms like Clever Offers provide access to a network of local, regional, and national cash buyers. The services maximize your chances of getting competitive offers on your property.
  • List your property with a realtor. Selling on the open market might take longer, but you'll likely get a higher sale price.

» LEARN: Why Clever Offers is a legit home sale option

Tenants still won't leave after you've tried everything

Last resort: Filing an eviction notice

Eviction is a last resort for many investors for a few reasons:

  • It's costly. The total cost to evict a tenant is often close to $4,000. You'll have to pay various legal and court fees and repair costs. And you still won't get the missed rent payments back.
  • It's time-consuming. Eviction can last for weeks or months. And during that time, you'll still have to pay property bills without rent payments.
  • It harms your tenants. Eviction can damage your tenant's credit score and ability to secure future housing.

If you decide to go with eviction, we recommend you speak with an attorney before proceeding. Violating local laws can lead to penalties, delays, or legal trouble.

Tenant not paying rent? Next steps

No matter which solution you choose, these are the best first steps to solve your issue with your tenant.

1. Consult with a real estate attorney

A real estate attorney can help you navigate and follow local landlord-tenant laws. They can clarify all your options and find the best path forward for you.

Attorneys can be expensive. Fees depend on the property's location and the attorney's experience level. But consulting with an attorney may be worth the cost.

They can help you avoid drawn-out legal battles and even more missed rent payments. So hiring an attorney might even end up saving you money.

» Get a pro in your corner: Find a local real estate attorney

2. Review local landlord-tenant laws

Landlord-tenant laws vary from state to state. Research those laws and find out your rights and responsibilities as a landlord. Then review your tenant's rights to ensure you meet legal requirements.

Make sure you look up the proper procedures to settle housing disputes in your state. HUD's state-specific information and Avail's education center are great places to start.

» MORE: Review Nolo's all-in-one legal guide for landlords

3. Review your lease

Your lease outlines any acceptable reasons and consequences for not paying rent. It should include any late payment fees or timelines to get current on rent.

For example, your lease might say you need to fix issues that make the apartment uninhabitable. These issues could include extended power and water outages, infestation, or other serious problems.

If the tenant has made you aware of an issue like this, they have the right to refuse to pay rent until you fix it.

Your lease should also include the process for lease termination. For example, it should state how long a tenant has to vacate the property and when you can withhold a security deposit.

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