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How to Deal with Delinquent Tenants

Ken Corsini
4 min read

If you have ever owned a rental property, chances are you have had to deal with late rent payments. Unfortunately, as a landlord, this simply goes with the territory. As common as this is however, I often see investors caught off guard when they first encounter a tenant who is late with the rent.  In fact, I have seen new investors take it personally and respond in any number of ways including, anger, panic, hurt feelings, you name it!  Truth is, learning to deal with delinquent tenants is very much a part of owning rental property.

While every landlord has his or her own philosophy and approach to this type of situation, it’s been my experience that each situation is unique and should be handled with discernment. I have met investors over the years that are extremely rigid with tenants refusing to bend regardless of the situation. Conversely, I have met investors who, having been too lenient, found themselves feeling swindled by their tenant.  Usually, I try to find an approach somewhere in the middle. I’ve learned that striking a balance between being firm yet reasonable with my tenants ultimately helps maximize my returns.

When the 5th of the month rolls around and I take inventory of which rents have or have not been received, I immediately go on the hunt for information.  Most of the time I will call the delinquent tenant to inquire about the missing rent and when I can expect payment. Ultimately, I want to get them caught up and back on track as quickly as possible to minimize any losses in cash flow. However, I also need to fully assess the situation to determine how aggressive I need to be in collecting the rent and/or proceeding with an eviction.

Having dealt with many different tenants and situations over the years, I can tell you there is not a “one size fits all” approach.  While the following points are not a comprehensive list, they do represent some of my basic considerations in deciding how to deal with delinquent tenants.

Considerations when Dealing with Delinquent Tenant Payments

  • What kind of track record does this tenant have with me? If this is a new tenant with no prior history who is late on rent, chances are I’m going to be more aggressive in my actions. It is important to set a precedent early on that paying late is not going to be tolerated. However, if this is a tenant that I have worked with for a long time with a good payment history, I may be more lenient if I truly believe this one incident to be an anomaly.
  • Is this a one-time occurrence or is their current financial situation such that this is likely to be an ongoing problem? There have been many occasions when my phone call uncovers some kind of significant material change to their financial situation (i.e. lost job, uncollected child support, separation, etc.). If it appears the tenant is going to have a hard time affording the rent going forward, it may make sense to begin working with the tenant towards an amicable move-out.
  • Will they be able to get caught up quickly or will this deficit be carried into the foreseeable future? Unfortunately, much of our society lives paycheck to paycheck and any unplanned bills can throw a huge wrench into things.  With this kind of tenant, I have found that accepting the rent late this month typically means that the rent will be late next month as well.  This is one reason why I may press a tenant very hard on exactly how they are going to get caught up, when they will have money, and where the money is going to come from.
  • Is the tenant communicating with me? Communication is one of the most important factors in deciding how to work with a delinquent tenant. If I can’t get in touch with my tenant and they refuse to call me back, I don’t waste time; I immediately move forward with an eviction.  Interestingly, I have found that communication is something that can be improved in many cases. Once a tenant understands that it’s in his or her best interest to communicate with the landlord, it’s remarkable how many calls get a prompt reply.
  • Is the tenant doing what he said he would do? Perhaps one of the most important tests of whether or not to continue working with a tenant is one of follow through. If I have agreed to receive the rent late, I consider it of utmost importance that the tenant follow through with this agreement. If my tenant tells me that the entire rent (plus late payment) will be paid on the 15th of the month, but instead delivers only half of the payment, I most likely will start eviction proceedings.   A tenant who does not do what he says he’s going to do (especially when I have agreed to a flexible arrangement) will only cause headaches and grief in the long run.

So many investors lose sight of the fact that owning rental properties is a business. As a business, it is our responsibility to maximize returns by thoughtfully managing the rents that we receive from our tenants.  Sometimes that may mean evicting a tenant while other times working out an alternative payment schedule to get a tenant back on track.  Regardless of the action, managing delinquent tenants is an essential skill for any landlord; a skill that should be honed to maximize effectiveness.   In the end, treating a tenant with respect and dignity is all-important and should be carefully balanced with good business sense and responsible stewardship.

Photo Credit: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

More on Delinquent Tenants:
How to Organize Your Rental Property Payments To Make Your Life Easier
“I Can’t Pay The Rent” – A Landlords Take on What to Do

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.