View of man hand making notes on paper document while sitting at the wooden table at sunny office.

Communication from a tenant is key when navigating this difficult situation. (Getty Images)

The first of the month has passed, and your tenant hasn’t submitted a rent payment. You’re hoping it’s an oversight on your tenant’s part, and you’re worried about making your own bill payments without the monthly rent in hand. What’s your next step?

In a strong economy, nonpayment of rent isn’t necessarily common, but it is often cited by attorneys as the most common landlord-tenant issue that goes to court. By April 5, 2019, 82.1% of professionally managed apartment households made a partial or full rental payment for that month, with 95.6% of households having made a payment by April 26, 2019, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council.

In a time of economic uncertainty, April 2020 showed making rent to be a bit harder: By April 5, 69.2% of households made a partial or full rent payment, and by April 26, 91.5% of households had paid at least some rent, according to NMHC.

The inability to pay rent is a major source of anxiety and stress for renters who have lost a job or have been hit with unexpected expenses. But it isn't always possible for landlords to offer payment plans or accept late rent.

“The reality, though, is landlords, either large or small, don’t have the capacity to have some sort of break in (payment),” says David Howard, executive director of the National Rental Home Council, which represents the single-family rental home industry and is currently lobbying federal legislators to provide relief for both tenants and landlords as unemployment rises.

[Read: What to Expect From the Housing Market in 2020.]

Here are five common scenarios landlords may face when a tenant hasn’t paid rent, along with some next steps for landlords.

  • Your tenant has warned you that he can’t afford upcoming rent.
  • Your tenant has asked for an extension to pay rent.
  • Your tenant still hasn’t paid last month’s rent in full.
  • Your tenant is consistently late with rent.
  • Your tenant is refusing to pay rent.

Your Tenant Has Warned You That He Can’t Afford Upcoming Rent

You may receive an email, phone call or letter from a tenant letting you know that due to some hardship, making rent isn’t possible. Often, this is caused by job loss.

This communication from a tenant is key to working out a solution. “The worst thing (a tenant) can do is just miss rent without saying anything,” says Ruth Shin, founder and CEO of PropertyNest, a real estate startup in New York City. In times of high unemployment, it can be a good idea to proactively reach out to all your tenants to touch base and establish communication before any rent is technically late.

If you receive notification from a tenant that upcoming rent won't be paid, evaluate your expenses, ask your tenant about his or her expectations for future income and determine the best solution. Howard breaks down a few scenarios that could help maintain a positive relationship between you and your tenant:

  • Establish a flexible payment plan. The full amount of rent will be broken into payments spread over a period of time, depending on the tenant’s income, and late fees may be waived or limited.
  • Accept partial payments. Some rent is better than no rent, and like a flexible plan, this option is temporary and keeps the tenant in the rental without stacking up late fees.
  • Allow the tenant to use the security deposit. In times of financial crisis, landlords may opt to let the tenant use the security deposit to help make a full rent payment. The downside is that landlords no longer have the security deposit to cover potential damages following move-out.
  • Let the tenant out of the lease. With no job prospects, your tenant may need to slash expenses, and sometimes that means moving in with a relative or friend. In many states, the landlord is entitled to continue charging rent to a tenant breaking a lease until a new renter is found. But if your tenant is out of money, take a look at your financial situation before you take a hard line. You may find that the expenses of keeping a rental vacant are very low, or that the local market is healthy enough that you can find a new renter in a matter of days.

[Read: How to Find a Room for Rent]

Your Tenant Has Asked for an Extension to Pay Rent

If the lease includes a late fee for rent paid after the due date, it’s a good idea to notify your tenant of the additional costs you intend to charge for late rent. Help ensure the tenant does not incur additional late fees by spelling out the process, including when fees increase.

However, if your tenant has a history of paying rent on time, waiving the fee for a one-time late payment is a kind act, especially if the tenant is struggling financially.

You can also offer flexible payment for a short period of time or accept partial payment in lieu of charging a late fee. Offers like these can look favorably on you if negotiations with the tenant fall apart and you eventually have to file for eviction based on nonpayment of rent. Michael Convery, counsel at the Keefe Law Firm in northeastern New Jersey, notes that a judge would likely recognize the landlord’s “action on good faith,” especially when it's documented in emails or letters.

You Tenant Still Hasn’t Paid Last Month’s Rent in Full

If your tenant only made a partial rent payment but has not communicated with you, reach out to the tenant and inform he or her of the short payment, then inquire if there are any problems. While the tenant should reach out first, starting the conversation can avoid legal action if it’s a solvable problem.

“(Landlords have) got to have a good understanding of what their tenants are dealing with and what their tenants are going through, and that really starts with the tenant,” Howard says.

Once you know the situation, you can determine your next move. That might include notifying the tenant of late fees for overdue rent and next steps if rent is not paid in full, amending the lease for a temporary partial payment plan or another solution that works for you and the tenant.

However, if issues persist, you may have to issue a notice to vacate. “Always have a next step if the solution doesn’t quite work,” Convery says. “If a landlord can’t get somebody to agree to that kind of arrangement, then I think that triggers your notice provisions on lease default.”

Your Tenant Is Consistently Late With Rent

Whether your tenant can't come up with the money or is a bit scatterbrained, habitually late rent is a problem, and it may make you late on loan payments or other regular costs, which affects your credit.

Late fees can act as a deterrent, but they're not always effective. Some state laws stipulate that consistently late rent payment is a cause for eviction, while others make it clear that as long as rent is paid eventually, eviction is not an option. In the latter case, you’re better off waiting out the lease and notifying the tenant with proper notice that you will not be renewing the contract.

[Read: 3 Reasons to Invest in Single-Family Rentals]

Your Tenant Is Refusing to Pay Rent

If you have an ongoing dispute with a tenant that has escalated to a refusal to pay rent, your next step is to follow local eviction proceedings. In many states, this includes written notice to vacate a few days prior to filing for eviction. Be sure you follow the exact procedure established by the local and state governing body, since a missed step can easily have your eviction request denied by the court.

Especially if you live in a state or city with laws that lean in favor of the tenant, be ready for a long and thorough case. “The eviction process does take time, and the tenant has a lot of rights in New York City, so it’s not that easy to actually evict tenants,” Shin says.

If your city or state has a temporary moratorium on evictions, an eviction cannot occur before the moratorium is lifted. However, you can begin the process of notifying your tenant of lease default prior to the end of the moratorium period.

Your tenant may be refusing to pay rent due to lack of habitability of the rental property, so it’s important that you properly maintain the home. Heating and cooling, toilets, sinks, door locks and windows must all be operational. Otherwise, your tenants can fight an eviction filing or even take you to court themselves, based on your neglect of the property.


The 25 Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. in 2019

Find an affordable place to call home.

Photo of colorful bars, clubs and businesses at the famous Sixth Street music and entertainment district of downtown Austin, Texas, USA, illuminated at night.

(Getty Images)

Your ability to be financially comfortable is a key part of deciding where you want to live. Based on a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. residents on the importance of various factors in determining where to live, U.S. News weighted value at 25% – making it one of the key metrics used to calculate the Best Places to Live. To pinpoint the most affordable places on the list, we looked at what portion of the median annual household income goes toward the average cost to own or rent a home, plus the typical cost of utilities and taxes.

25. Charlotte, North Carolina

25. Charlotte, North Carolina

charlotte north carolina city skyline

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 20
Metro Population: 2,427,024
Median Annual Salary: $50,150
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.77%

Charlotte takes the No. 25 spot on the list, with residents spending just 21.77% of their household income on housing expenses. At $50,150, the median annual salary for Charlotte residents just about matches the national average of $50,620.

24. St. Louis

24. St. Louis

This is a photograph of the old courthouse in front of the St. Louis arch in the middle of the day.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 81
Metro Population: 2,804,998
Median Annual Salary: $49,180
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.53%

Missouri’s largest metro area offers more affordability compared with other places in the U.S. of the same size. For instance, Baltimore and Tampa, Florida, can’t match the 21.53% cost of living compared to household income that St. Louis offers.

23. Little Rock, Arkansas

23. Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock, Arkansas

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 88
Metro Population: 730,346
Median Annual Salary: $43,780
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.52%

The capital of Arkansas is the 23rd-most affordable place to live on our list, with a blended annual household income, which includes household income for both renters and homeowners, of $55,911. After housing costs are covered, Little Rock residents typically keep more than 78% of their income to dedicate to other expenses.

22. Syracuse, New York

22. Syracuse, New York

Crouse College Bell Tower, Eggers Hall, Maxwell School, Tolley, Hall of LanguagesSyracuse, New YorkUpstate New YorkNew York State

(Tony Shi Photography/Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 54
Metro Population: 659,262
Median Annual Salary: $49,850
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.51%

This upstate New York metro area is a far more affordable living option compared to New York City, one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. Syracuse is also one of the few metro areas that's not located in Middle America in the 25 Best Affordable Places to Live list.

21. Minneapolis-St. Paul

21. Minneapolis-St. Paul

Last minute vacation in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Best Places 2019 Rank: 6
Metro Population: 3,526,149
Median Annual Salary: $56,030
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.5%

Minneapolis-St. Paul is the most populous metro area on the 25 Best Affordable Places to Live list. Not only are residents spending a smaller portion of their household income on housing – just 21.5% – they’re also bringing home more money. The median annual salary is $56,030.

20. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky

20. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky

Buildings in Lexington, Kentucky - old and new.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 29
Metro Population: 500,689
Median Annual Salary: $43,270
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.49%

Lexington-Fayette has deep roots in the equestrian and agriculture industries, with plenty of farmland just outside the city centers. This helps keep the metro area’s cost of living low, at just 21.49% of the household income.

19. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

19. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

Durham, North Carolina, USA downtown cityscape.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 10
Metro Population: 1,824,266
Median Annual Salary: $53,788
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.47%

Referred to as the Research Triangle on account of the plethora of research companies and major universities based in the area – including Duke University, the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University – Raleigh and Durham enjoy a relatively low cost of living. Residents spend just 21.47% of their household income on living costs.

18. Tulsa, Oklahoma

18. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa downtown skyline with trees and the Arkansas river in the foreground.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 83
Metro Population: 977,869
Median Annual Salary: $45,260
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.45%

Residents of the Tulsa area spend just 21.45% of the median household income on the cost of living. The overall cost of owning a home in Tulsa is low as well: The median home price is just $149,000, according to Zillow, which is well below the national average of $227,025.

17. Greenville, South Carolina

17. Greenville, South Carolina

Drone aerial of the downtown Greenville South Carolina SC skyline at sunrise.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 22
Metro Population: 872,463
Median Annual Salary: $43,230
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.44%

Ranking No. 22 on the overall Best Places to Live list, Greenville enjoys a low cost of living with residents spending just 21.44% of the median household income on housing. And a steadily growing number of people are able to benefit from this low cost of living: Greenville's population grew by 4.9% due to net migration between 2013 and 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

16. Kansas City, Missouri

16. Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri, USA – Aug. 16th, 2015.  A view of The Power & Light District in Kansas City

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 49
Metro Population: 2,088,830
Median Annual Salary: $49,460
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.43%

This metro area that straddles both Missouri and Kansas is home to more than 2 million residents, but it still maintains greater affordability than most major metro areas. Kansas City residents dedicate just 21.43% of their household income to the cost of living.

15. Wichita, Kansas

15. Wichita, Kansas

Downtown Wichita skyline with a waterway and park in the foreground.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 79
Metro Population: 642,339
Median Annual Salary: $43,880
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.42%

While there are more than 600,000 residents in this Kansas metro area, Wichita maintains a small-town feel – with a low cost of living to match. Residents use just 25.88% of their household income to cover rent or mortgage payments, utilities and taxes.

14. Omaha, Nebraska

14. Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha, Nebraska is one of the best fall family vacations

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 32
Metro Population: 914,190
Median Annual Salary: $47,660
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.29%

With a median annual salary of $47,660, Omaha takes the No. 14 spot. The largest metro area in Nebraska, which ranked a bit higher at No. 8 last year, has seen a slight increase in the cost of living. Still, residents spend just 21.29% of their household income on housing.

13. Youngstown, Ohio

13. Youngstown, Ohio

Youngstown is a city in and the county seat of Mahoning County in the U.S. state of Ohio, with small portions extending into Trumbull County.

(Getty Stock Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 97
Metro Population: 548,821
Median Annual Salary: $41,360
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.18%

With a little more than a half-million residents, the Youngstown metro area has a cost of living that requires 21.18% of the median household income. The median home price for the metro area is low as well, at just $86,850, more than $140,000 below the national average.

12. Louisville, Kentucky

12. Louisville, Kentucky

View of Louisville at dusk from the Indiana side with Ohio river in foreground, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

(Bob Stefko/Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 64
Metro Population: 1,278,203
Median Annual Salary: $45,100
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.11%

As the No. 15 Best Affordable Place to Live in 2018, Louisville has climbed three spots to rank 12th on the list this year. With a median annual salary of $45,100, Louisville residents spend 21.11% of their household income on living expenses.

11. Buffalo, New York

11. Buffalo, New York

Downtown Buffalo skyline along the historic waterfront district. Buffalo is a city in the U.S. state of New York and the seat of Erie County located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie. Buffalo is known for its close proximity to Niagara Falls, good museums and cultural attractions

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 52
Metro Population: 1,136,670
Median Annual Salary: $48,180
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.11%

Beating Louisville by a ten-thousandth of a percent for the portion of income that goes toward housing, Buffalo is the second upstate New York metro area to make the top 25. Residents in the Buffalo area benefit from a low cost of living, with just 21.11% of the median household income spent on living expenses.

10. Cincinnati

10. Cincinnati

Cincinnati at sunrise watching cars cross the bridge.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 39
Metro Population: 2,156,723
Median Annual Salary: $48,890
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21%

Cincinnati residents spend slightly less than Buffalonians on housing costs. The typical cost of living is 21% of the median household income.

9. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

9. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 109
Metro Population: 828,741
Median Annual Salary: $44,500
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.79%

It may be ranked No. 109 on the overall Best Places to Live list, but Baton Rouge ranks high when it comes to affordability. Baton Rouge residents spend just 20.79% of their income on housing costs.

8. Lafayette, Louisiana

8. Lafayette, Louisiana

Lafayette is a city in and the parish seat of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 96
Metro Population: 487,633
Median Annual Salary: $39,940
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.76%

The second Louisiana metro area on the Best Affordable Places to Live list, Lafayette has a cost of living of just 20.76% of the median household income. The low cost of living helps balance out the area's lower median annual salary, which at $39,940 is more than $10,000 below the national average.

7. Indianapolis

7. Indianapolis

Image of the Indianapolis skyline with busy traffic and dramatic sky.

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Best Places 2019 Rank: 38
Metro Population: 1,989,032
Median Annual Salary: $48,030
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.72%

Indianapolis is one of two Indiana metro area to crack the top 10 of the Best Affordable Places to Live list. Indianapolis residents spend just 20.72% of their household income on rent, mortgage payments, utilities and taxes.

6. Grand Rapids, Michigan

6. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids Michigan skyline along the banks of the Grand river.

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Best Places 2019 Rank: 13
Metro Population: 1,039,182
Median Annual Salary: $44,770
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.68%

Money goes further in Grand Rapids than most parts of the U.S. While the median annual salary is below the national average of $50,620, metro area residents spend just 20.68% of the median household income on living expenses.

5. Pittsburgh

5. Pittsburgh

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 50
Metro Population: 2,348,143
Median Annual Salary: $48,580
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.51%

Located in the western part of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh enjoys a more affordable cost of living than Philadelphia to the east. Residents of the Steel City and its surrounding area spend just 20.51% of their household income on rent or mortgage payments and utilities.

4. Fayetteville, Arkansas

4. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Two rowers on foggy Lake Fayetteville at sunrise out for morning exercise silhouetted against the sunrise reflection

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 4
Metro Population: 514,166
Median Annual Salary: $45,830
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.44%

Fayetteville continues to grow in population – having increased by 6.94% between 2013 and 2017 due to net migration alone – but the area maintains a low cost of living. Residents spend just one-fifth of their household income on housing costs.

3. Des Moines, Iowa

3. Des Moines, Iowa

A photo of Pioneer Statue with Downtown Des Moines in the background.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 5
Metro Population: 623,113
Median Annual Salary: $50,600
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.11%

Des Moines has long been known for its low cost of living. After taking the top spot in the Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. ranking in 2016 and 2017, the capital of Iowa holds onto its No. 3 spot from last year. Des Moines residents spend just 20.11% of the median annual household income on living costs.

2. Fort Wayne, Indiana

2. Fort Wayne, Indiana

FortWayne, Indiana

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 40
Metro Population: 429,060
Median Annual Salary: $43,590
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 19.57%

Residents of Fort Wayne, one of the least-populated metro areas in the Best Places to Live ranking with under 500,000 residents, benefit from spending less on housing. The cost of living in Fort Wayne is just 19.57% of the median household income.

1. Huntsville, Alabama

1. Huntsville, Alabama

Downtown Huntsville, Alabama on a sunny day.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 11
Metro Population: 444,908
Median Annual Salary: $53,600
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 19.3%

Huntsville is the most affordable place to live out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for the second year in a row. An above-average median annual salary and low cost of living mean Huntsville residents are keeping more money in their pockets to devote to other things. Just 19.3% of the median household income in Huntsville goes toward housing costs.

The Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. include:

The Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. include:

USA, Florida, Stuart, Aerial view of suburbs

(Getty Images)

  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Fayetteville, Arkansas
  • Pittsburgh
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Indianapolis
  • Lafayette, Louisiana
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Cincinnati

See full rankings.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, renting, investing


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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