A grace period is a set amount of time that tenants have after their rent is due to pay their rent before being charged a late fee. If you have a grace period, you may be able to pay your rent up to 30 days late without incurring a late fee or any other penalties.
Some states require landlords to provide tenants with grace periods. Sometimes landlords include grace periods in their leases, even if they aren’t required. If your state requires landlords to provide grace periods, then it should be in your lease. Even if it’s not, if your state mandates grace periods, then you get one anyway.
It’s important to know whether your lease provides a grace period so that you know if and when you may be charged late fees for missing the due date for your rent.
Rent Due Dates
Due dates for rent are listed specifically in rental agreements that landlords and tenants sign at the beginning of a lease. Usually, these due dates are on the same day each month (e.g. the 1st or the 15th). On those dates, rent payments must be paid-in-full.
If rent payments are not submitted each month on or prior to the due date, or rent is not paid in full, then it is considered late, and you may be charged a late fee. If your rent is late enough, your landlord may even try to evict you.
Tip: Even if your landlord isn’t meeting their obligations under the lease—if your heat goes out in the middle of winter and you have to find someplace else to stay, for example—it’s still important to pay your rent in full and on time.
If you think your landlord isn’t fulfilling terms of the lease, you should still pay rent, but you may want to pay it into an escrow account, rather than to your landlord directly. However, this is something you would need to work with an attorney to set up.
How Late Fees Work
Late fees are penalties that are charged if you’re late in paying rent. Some landlords, but not all, charge late fees to penalize tenants if they don’t pay rent on time. If you don’t pay your rent on time, your landlord might charge you a fee—usually 5% to 10% of your monthly rent.
Many states limit how much landlords can charge in late fees. North Carolina, for example, limits late fees to 5% of rent or $15, whichever is greater; while Tennessee limits late fees to 10% of past-due rent. Other states require only that late fees be written in leases and be “reasonable.”
Not all landlords charge late fees. And in some cases (like for certain protected classes), you might be exempt from any late fees. You might also fall within a grace period—more on that in a minute.
For more information on late fees, be sure to check out our article about how late fees work.
What is a Grace Period?
A grace period is a set amount of time—typically a few days—after the due date for rent. Tenants who fail to pay their rent on or before their due date can still pay their rent during the grace period without being charged a late fee or facing any other penalties.
Some landlords write grace periods into their leases in order to give their tenants a break if they’re only a couple of days late on rent. In other cases, landlords are required by state law to give their tenants grace periods.
In other events, landlords may offer “unofficial” grace periods that aren’t written into their leases. In these cases, landlords simply permit tenants to pay rent a few days late without paying a penalty, even if a grace period isn’t specifically listed in the terms of their lease.
And, if you think you may be late, you can always ask. If you’re up front about your circumstances and clear with when and how you’ll pay the rent, you might be able to get a one-time exemption from late fees. For more information, check out our article on how to tell the landlord rent will be late.
State Grace Period Requirements
There’s no federal law requiring landlords to provide tenants with grace periods, but some states have their own rules that require landlords to give tenants time after the due date for their rent to pay before being charged a penalty.
States With Mandatory Grace Periods
|State||Required Grace Period|
|New Jersey||5 days, but only for protected classes|
|North Carolina||5 days|
If you live in a state that requires landlords to offer a grace period, then you are entitled to a grace period in which you can pay your rent without being charged a late fee—even if the grace period is not specifically listed in your lease.
It’s also important to note that grace periods can even vary from city to city. In New York City, for example, all tenants are automatically granted a five-day grace period in which they can pay their rent without a penalty. After those five days, they can be charged late fees up to 5% of their past-due rent.
How are Due Dates and Late Fees Set
Due dates are set in rental agreements, as are late fees. In order to be enforceable, late fees must be explicitly stated in your lease. Otherwise, they aren’t binding.
Some states also have specific provisions limiting how much landlords can charge in late fees. In states that have specific rules, state rules supersede individual leases—in other words, if your lease provides for a late fee that exceeds the state limit, then you are only responsible for paying the limit listed by the state. So, it’s important to know the law in your area, in case your landlord tries to charge a late fee either:
- Before the end of the grace period, or
- In excess of what is allowed by state law.
Why Landlords Offer Grace Periods
If you’re a landlord writing new lease agreements for your tenants, it may be a good idea for you to include late fees and grace periods in your leases. A late fee of 4% to 5% of monthly rent can be a strong incentive for tenants to pay their rent on time, and a grace period can permit them the flexibility to pay their rent without encountering late fees or other headaches.
If you’re including late fees or grace periods in your leases, be sure to check the laws in your area. Depending on where you live, you may be limited in how much you can charge in late fees, or you could be required to provide tenants with grace periods in which they can pay past-due rent without a penalty.
Flexible Grace Periods for Landlords
Instead of including a grace period in your rental agreements, you may want to consider excluding them. Even if you leave grace periods out of your leases, you can always offer one to a tenant who is late with their rent, by simply not charging them a fee if they’re a few days late.
But if you do include a grace period in your leases, then you’re required to stick to it.
A Final Word
Grace periods are set periods of time after the due date for rent in which you can still pay your rent without being charged a late fee or incurring other penalties. If you aren’t sure whether you have a grace period, be sure to consult your lease and the laws of your state. Doing so will tell you whether you’re entitled to a grace period and how long it is, so you can better understand your rights and obligations as a tenant.