Paying your rent late is never good, but it’s not the end of the world. People pay rent late for all sorts of reasons—they might have their hours cut at work or have emergency expenses—but it’s always best to pay rent on time whenever possible.
If you have to pay your rent late, your landlord may charge you late fees or assess other penalties. So it’s important to know your rights and responsibilities when it comes to paying late.
When is Rent Late?
Every lease has provisions that outline things such as the rent amount and when it’s due. Technically, your rent is late if it’s not paid in full on or before the due date listed in your lease.
In addition to listing your rent amount and your due date, your lease also describes any potential consequences that you may face for failing to pay your rent or failing to pay on time. Depending on where you live and your specific rental agreement, these can range from a small penalty to eviction.
For example, if your rent is late, you may have to pay a late fee. You may have a grace period after your due date, during which you can pay your rent without any late fees or other penalties. More on that later.
Potential Consequences of Paying Rent Late
Not paying rent in full and on time can open you up to penalties and other consequences. You may face a late fee if you don’t pay past-due rent within your grace period (if you have a grace period). And if rent remains unpaid for too long, your landlord may evict you.
If you aren’t just late on your rent, but completely default on your lease (by not paying during a grace period or even after getting a notice to quit), your landlord may file to start eviction proceedings. They may also be able to take steps other than just eviction. For example, in some cases landlords actually report delinquent tenants to credit bureaus, which can actually cause a long-term impact to your credit—similar to defaulting on a loan.
Technically, landlords are able to do this as soon as your rent is late (and you’ve failed to pay during the grace period, if you have one). In practice, though, most landlords don’t typically report tenants to credit bureaus for non payment of rent. If yours does, though, it may make it harder for you to rent again in the future.
In some cases, landlords can even sue defaulted tenants for past-due rent.
But, if you’re just a few days late on your rent, these steps are still a long way off. More often than not, the penalties for paying rent late can start with a simple late fee.
Late Fees on Rent
Many landlords charge late fees to tenants who don’t pay their rent on time. These fees are meant to be an incentive for tenants to pay on time by penalizing them when payments are late.
Generally, late fees are either a flat dollar amount or a certain percentage of the monthly rent amount, and are assessed if rent payments aren’t received within a certain number of days of the rent due date.
It’s completely legal for landlords to charge tenants late fees if they don’t pay their rent on time. However, in order to be enforceable, late fees must be included in the lease agreement signed by tenant and landlord, and they must comply with local law. There are no federal laws regarding late fees for rent, but some states restrict how much tenants can be charged.
Late Fee Restrictions
More than a dozen states have laws governing how much tenants can be charged in late fees. The states with specific laws restricting late fees include:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
In addition to state restrictions, some cities also limit the amount that tenants can be charged in late fees. New York City, for example, limits late fees to the lesser of 5% of the past-due rent or $50.
It’s also important to note that just because your lease includes a provision for late fees doesn’t mean that your landlord will assess the fee if you’re late. Landlords can elect to waive these fees any time—which is just another reason to do everything you can to stay on good terms with them.
For more information on late fees, be sure to check out our article on how late fees work.
How Grace Periods Work
While some landlords charge late fees if tenants don’t pay their rent on time, these fees aren’t always assessed right away. Instead, landlords sometimes give tenants a grace period—a period of time after the due date for their rent, during which they can pay their rent without facing a late fee or any other penalty.
A grace period is a number of days after a due date before late fee kicks in. Tenants can pay their rent during this period without getting hit with a late fee or any other penalties.
States with Mandatory Grace Periods
|State||Required Grace Period|
|New Jersey||5 days, but only for protected classes|
|North Carolina||5 days|
If you have a grace period, it’s usually outlined in your lease. This period will give you a few extra days to pay your rent without facing extra charges. Tenants who live in states that have mandated grace periods are entitled to a grace period, whether their lease includes one or not. That’s why it’s essential to read your lease, research state and local laws that govern your lease, and know your rights—you can’t just take your landlord’s word for it.
7 Tips for Paying Rent Late
Sometimes, paying rent late is unavoidable—but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. If you have to pay your rent late, here are some tips to help smooth things over with your landlord:
1. Tell Your Landlord Early
If you’re going to be late paying your rent one month, it’s a good idea to give your landlord advance warning. They may have mortgage payments or other expenses that they pay with money received from your rent. Telling them that you may be late gives them an opportunity to make adjustments to pay their own bills.
And letting them know ahead of time can help keep them from getting angry if they’re surprised with the news on your due date.
Telling your landlord that your rent will be late can be a tough conversation. The key is to be direct, but polite.
2. Be Flexible
If you know that your rent may be late, try to be accommodating when you tell your landlord. Apologize, show that you understand your obligations under your lease, and make clear that your rent is going to be late. Lastly, tell them how and when you plan to pay them.
3. Make Late Payments the Exception
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to pay rent on time. People lose their jobs, they have their hours cut, or they get hurt and can’t work. But, you should try not to pay rent late every month. Regularly being late with your rent will frustrate your landlord and make them less inclined to help you in the future—they may even decide not to renew your lease.
4. Pay What You Can On Time
Even when you can’t pay all your rent on time, it’s still a good idea to pay as much as you can on or before your due date. This will go a long way toward building goodwill with your landlord. It can also reduce the amount of your late fee since late fees are usually based on the amount of rent that’s past-due.
If your monthly rent is $1,000 and you’re able to pay $500 on time, if you’re charged a late fee, your late fee will usually be based on the remaining $500 that’s late—not the full $1,000.
You’re responsible for the payment under your lease anyway, so you might as well pay what you can on time. Paying nothing will only make things worse.
You might also be able to get help paying the rent. Check out our guide to Programs That Help Pay Rent for more information.
5. Negotiate a Payment Schedule
If you have trouble paying your rent all at once on or before the due date, you might want to offer to pay your landlord in installments throughout the month, rather than all at once. This will show your landlord that you’re making an honest effort and demonstrate good faith, which can go a long way.
6. Offer In-Kind Payment
When you sign a lease, you’re obligated to make certain payments each month. If you can’t pay on-time, you might try offering to mow the lawn or take care of other work at the property you rent. That way, your landlord can save some money on expenses, which can be just as helpful to them as paying your rent—especially when combined with a partial payment. This also helps you to get on their good side and shows that you’re doing what you can.
If you’re regularly having trouble paying your rent on time, it may be a sign that you can’t afford the place you’re renting. At some point, the responsible thing is to find a less costly place to live—somewhere that has lower rent payments each month. Of course, you’ll have to make sure that your rent is current before you move. But when it comes time to renew your lease, you may choose to relocate instead.
Late rent is when you don’t pay your rent in full on or before your due date. There are reasons that it happens, but there are ways to do it and not to do it. It’s important not to pay your rent late every month. But, it’s also critical to know your rights and obligations, especially regarding late fees and grace periods.