Short on Rent

A friend called me last night to ask what to do when you’re short on rent.

My suggestion was to be honest with your landlord and admit that you don’t have the money and lay out what you can pay now and when you will pay down the rest. It’s this person’s last month in this living situation, too, so this is the last payment. To me, owning up to the situation and being transparent about it is a huge step up from tenants who vanish or avoid the landlord and then disappear, but maybe it … isn’t. I could really use some perspective on this! — C.

My suggestion for this particular friend is similar to the one C. suggested: Don’t spend any time avoiding the situation and notify the landlord about it immediately. Work out a date when you can pay in full and pay what you can now. Did the friend give the landlord a deposit when she or he moved in? Perhaps the landlord could just keep that money.

Not paying the money and disappearing should not be on the list of options. A landlord can sue a tenant for unpaid rent, and if the tenant doesn’t show up in court, a court can issue a judgment that may show up on the tenant’s credit report, and the tenant may later have to deal with collection agencies who will release the hounds, because that’s what they do.

I asked some friends who’ve made late rent payments about what they’ve done, and notifying the landlord about the late payment was always number one on their list. They also, variously, got a short-term loan from a loved one (usually parents) to make up the rest of their rent, scoured Craigslist for odd jobs (the common theme for not being able to pay rent was “sudden unemployment), and took out a cash advance on credit cards (note: not recommended due to the fees and high interest rates).

But disappearing on someone to avoid a situation isn’t the solution. It’s the whole “dad says he’s going to the gas station for cigarettes but never comes back” trick, which is just awful. And if you don’t think the landlord will bother going to court, think again. They love getting their money.

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2 Comments / Post A Comment

athens_baby (#2,527)

This happened to me. I paid 1/2 at the start of the month, and was able to scrape together the other 1/2 mid-way through the month. Thankfully I was on good terms with my landlord and they were fine with it. I guess it really depends on your relationship with the landlord and if they have historically been buttholes about little stuff before. Good luck to your friend!

pizzatourist (#2,449)

I have immediate family that are landlords. Every situation is different and I don’t want to speak for them but I’ve heard enough of their stories to get a sense of what they would do. First – if the tenant walks without paying and the deposit doesn’t cover it (if they also damage or do not clean their apartment or whatever the deposit agreement is) then my family does go to court and typically they win because they’ve done it enough times that they have more knowledge than the tenant about how it works and what they need to win. Second – Their leases have a late fee policy. They do not always apply it but they usually do. It depends on the situation and the tenant. Third – They have been burned so many times that they have little patience for any scenario where the tenant is not holding up their end of the deal. As a landlord, this is their livelihood – just like your job is yours. They don’t really care why the tenant can’t pay or what plan they have for making good on it. They need payment and they need it on time. However, when they have a tenant that has generally been a good tenant they are much more likely to work with them. And being up front about payment issues will go a lot further with them than trying to ignore it or skip out on it. And lets face it – they will go to court but they don’t enjoy going to court. So, if an alternate agreement can be worked out at the end of the lease then this is more appealing to them. I think (just guessing what they would think) that if the tenant can pay at least some portion of the rent due on time, that would help the case. It is more than just a promise – it is backed by action.

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