Tenant is late and has cancer

57 Replies

One of my tenants has just been diagnosed with cancer. She's been dealing with various health issues that have made paying rent on time a problem. Has anyone dealt with a situation like this? I'm trying to be accommodating, but also have bills to pay.

I would offer to let her out of her lease and give her deposit back.  If she responds positively, see if you can't find a more affordable rental around that she could apply to, maybe?  Worst case you'll have to give her notice to vacate next time she's late but at least you'll know you tried to help her out and she refused.

@Matt Hourigan - I have dealt with a lot of stories, some real, and some not from tenants. If you want to keep things strictly business, issue a notice, then file for eviction if she doesn't pay.

What might be more amenable, for both your soul, wallet and her, is to sit down and have a conversation with her. Have a face to face conversation explaining you can't afford to have her not pay, and see if she can get help with rent, or talk through a timelines where she can move in with family, and you let her out of the lease with no penalties. Giver her 30 days or something like that to transition to a different living situation. Offer to pay for a moving truck out of her deposit. I think there are some ways where you can help her transition and not kill your wallet, and then get the unit filled with a paying tenant.

I think it depends on how much of the lease is left. I would probably be okay with giving her 1-2 months of living there without paying rent and to move out. This is assuming she’s been a good tenant and you have an amicable relationship.

If it’s a year on the lease or she doesn’t think 1-2 months without Paying rent is okay I would probably move to evict. There’s likely no good way to truly confirm if she has cancer or not so depending on what type of tenant she’s been so far, would have a large influence on which way id go

I would speak with her about the rent and her time table for paying it.  Both for whatever is currently due and for the future.

If it sounds like she can't afford this place anymore, then I'd offer to let her out of the lease with no penalties.

Bottom line, bad things happen to good people.  But the bills don't stop and people are still responsible for their own finances.  Would a bank stop a foreclosure because their borrower was diagnosed with cancer?  No, they wouldn't.

Thanks All, very sound advice. 

I think a common thread here is good communication and boundaries: I'll work with her to find a solution, and if we cannot make it work financially, we will have to find different accommodations for her.

Business or charity. Decide. Fact is you should not be getting personally involved in your tenants lives. Keep everything strictly business. Having cancer and pay rent late should not be related. Rent first.

I had a similar situation with a tenant dying of cancer and he stopped paying rent. Served him with a eviction notice and the s.o.b died before I could evict. Frustrating to say the least. Fortunately I was able to force the estate to pay rent owed and my expenses for filing the eviction.

You should not ever involve emotions in business or you will always be on the losing end financially.

My policy is ..S**t happens, nothing I can do about it, pay your rent first then I will see what I can do. 

We have all been there with a tenant in need. While I am always compassionate, I think:

-If I had an issue, would my tenant pay double rent to help me out?

-Does the grocery store forgive their bill?

-Electric company?

At the end of the day, their rent helps me take care of my family. Compassion yes, but at the end of the day the rent must be paid 

My wife had cancer. It was terrible. I would never wish this on anyone. But we still had to pay our mortgage every month. Bills still have to be paid. Considering I’ve been on the cancer side of this, and I am also a landlord, all I can say is have some compassion and understanding while dealing with this one. Cancer wasn’t a choice for her.

I had to evict a young single woman once because she stoped paying rent for a couple months after having a baby. It was pretty tough emotionally because I have a family and my wife had recently had an extremely tough pregnancy including 3 months in the hospital. My conscience was helped immensely by the fact that she told me she had one kid on moving in and actually had 3 by different fathers living there on and off (it was a one bedroom apartment). And that she did little to find a solution when I tried to find a soft landing for her. She just assumed I or someone else should pay her debts.

Heck of a learning experience for me. Glad she was my second tenant and not my first.

Having said that, life is not all about the money, and as others have said, spending some time and effort to help another person experiencing a tragedy can be as rewarding to you as it is to them. Reasonable people will not expect you to hurt you or your family, but will appreciate whatever you can do for them, assuming they can see past their own pain.

Originally posted by @Thomas S. :

Business or charity. Decide. Fact is you should not be getting personally involved in your tenants lives. Keep everything strictly business. Having cancer and pay rent late should not be related. Rent first.

I had a similar situation with a tenant dying of cancer and he stopped paying rent. Served him with a eviction notice and the s.o.b died before I could evict. Frustrating to say the least. Fortunately I was able to force the estate to pay rent owed and my expenses for filing the eviction.

You should not ever involve emotions in business or you will always be on the losing end financially.

My policy is ..S**t happens, nothing I can do about it, pay your rent first then I will see what I can do. 

 Some business can absorb the cost of charitable donations and or good will..... But to some extent I agree with you, if one is running a business then these things need to have clear budget/requirements otherwise the risk of abuse is extremely high.

There might be a nonprofit or religious organization that provides rental assistance.  Most cities of any size have several.  That way she doesn't have to move and the rent is paid.

You're being forced to pay a compassion tax that the people who don't want to change heath care in this country are never in a position to be forced to pay -- they're not hands-on landlords. The compassion tax is levied rather unfairly and haphazardly on people like us, as you can obviously see.

Here's my solution: find her a nicer apartment/house than the one you're renting her. The place should be closer to her care centers than your apartment or house. It should cost more to rent than what she pays you. Go to her and offer to let her out of her lease. Offer to subsidize the difference between your rent and the new rent for the next year. Offer to reimburse her for a moving truck.  She hires it, sends you the bill, and you'll pay it. If she asks why you can't just pay for that moving truck, well, explain that the truck and mover's rental has to be in her name "for tax purposes." Trust me, she'll never ask what that means. Offer her the world, just put nothing in writing.


Go with her to sign the lease for the new place. Give her the money for the security deposit, cash up front. Subsidize the first month's rent as promised, cash up front, if you need to. That's your minimal tax.

The moving truck will come, you'll say your cordial goodbyes, and voila, she'll be living elsewhere. As she left, she probably told the whole neighborhood what a fine fellow you are. Your problem is solved.

Change the locks on the rental. Change your phone number. Throw the mover's bill away when it comes. If she comes out to your house, call the cops. If she vilifies you in the old neighborhood, you should sadly shake your head. "It's really sad, but she couldn't hear what she didn't want to hear. It doesn't matter that I paid (insert inflated number here) to help her. People in pain get that way..." Get your alternative narrative out there.

What, does the taxman always get nothing but God's honest truth from you at tax-time? Or do you work to avoid paying the highest tax rate if there's any possible way to do so without running afoul of the law?

In closing, I'd like to point out that this sort of promising and alternative truth-telling is obviously the royal road to success in real estate investing. Just look at our President.

And if she gets too mouthy, you can send a guy to talk to her in a parking lot.

@Matt Hourigan I would do like others have said and have a conversation with her in person and be honest. Have a talk and adjust what you say and do from what happens during that conversation.

You can and should be sympathetic to a point.  But if she is late for more than 30 days, you need to be concerned.  And take action.

As a landlord, I have heard every story.  They couldn't pay rent because they had to pay for their father's tombstone.  Their son was locked up.  They were the victims of bank fraud....

We run a business and if we don't get rent, the expenses keep coming.

Unfortunately, you have to separate your personal feelings and your business.  

You run a business.  

Do you let your tenants pay their rent late?  If so, then this should be no different.  If not, then this should be no different.

Your tenant's personal lives have no baring on your business.  Otherwise, you will start a pattern that will be tough to break once you start.

I'm going against alot of the sentiment being expressed in this thread.

Losing out on rent for a period doesn't make you a charity it makes you a businessman because these situations are part of the risk that you take on when you get into this business.  That said you haven't lost out on any rent yet she's late not delinquent.

She has a life threatening ailment that she didn't bring upon herself.

You have a self-inflicted problem - you took out a mortgage that you don't seem to be able to afford without rent.

She should do whatever she needs to do to survive. If that entails you losing out on rent so be it.

Eviction eh. If I had cancer I'm pretty sure I could find medical reasons to persuade a court to adjourn your hearing  and it's not like there will be money to pay that mortgage while you are waiting for the eviction to go through. In my jurisdiction it takes months to get someone out. 

So if I were you I would sit down with her and try to find out more about her situation beyond her just being late.

I generally don't want to know what is going on in my tenants lives, and I've never encouraged 'rapport' with them or any type of personal relationship (even when I was living next door to some). If one were to tell me they had cancer I think I'd respond that 'I'm sorry to hear that' and wouldn't ask for further details or interact with them any differently.

Thanks everyone. Looks like there are all types of landlords. It's helpful hearing everyones perspective.

like @John Umphress stated, you may be able to extract a list of charities that help paying the rent.  this does not mean that you don't move towards an eviction.  you can do them both parallel.  I had a situation where the tenant was recovering from a  liver transplant and i filed for eviction but also provided her with a list of agencies that could help her.  i ended up postponing the lockout because i received confirmation that the agency was going to pay the back months and they did. 

@Matt Hourigan ,

We haven't had to deal with cancer, but we have had a tenant pass away.    When the tenant passed away, we gave the surviving tenant $100 off, as she had to pay for the deceased funeral and whatnot.    Does her having cancer mean she'll never have income,  or that she just has a lot of medical bills?  If she lost her job, without a doubt I'd offer to let her out of the lease now,  and keep the security deposit  as long as you can verify the home is well taken care of, and move her out within a month so you don't lose any rent.       If she's working less, can you suggest her getting a roommate to help with the bills?    

 You need to focus on determining if there is a long term solution (for both you and her!), or if it's best to help her by cutting ties so she can keep the $$ she has now.

@Ihe O.

"If that entails you losing out on rent so be it."..........You evict

Business does not survive on charity...money has no feelings.

Originally posted by @Thomas S. :

@Ihe O.

"If that entails you losing out on rent so be it."..........You evict

Business does not survive on charity...money has no feelings.

 Money doesn't pay rent by itself it's owned by people all of whom do have feelings. 

Business does not survive on charity but it does survive on goodwill and many people would rather not do business with an emotionally ignorant counterparty  which it is why it's good to remember that being a landlord doesn't also have to mean being a jerk.

@Ihe O.

You seem to be a big tenant advocate on BP.  No problem with that.  So, what if the situation is reversed and the landlord has cancer and is struggling to pay their bills.  Would you also advocate the tenant pay for repairs or paying extra rent ?

If we are going to take this to a personal level, surely it goes both ways, right ?

Having cancer does not absolve a individual from fulfilling their financial responsibilities.

Good will is a two way street. Good will is destroyed by tenants that do not pay rent on time as required by their contract.

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