Dealing with a delinquent renter -- Time to send another strongly-worded letter or bust kneecaps?
March 10, 2008 7:57 PM   Subscribe

What should I do about a (possible) problem renter who isn't paying on time and putting off late fees he owes me? I'm renting out my condo and have been have been having a problem with getting the renter to pay on time. (This is the first time I've rented out to him the place.) He's always paid the rent portion in full, but he owes me $150 in late fees and has put it off, I want to snuff this out quickly and not make this a chronic problem. I moved out state about a month ago but explained to the renter that the check had to be postmarked on the first of every month to be mailed to me. I still have a bunch of local friends acting as 'property managers' who can go and break kneecaps if necessary.

Here's the official timeline:
* Three months ago, he signed a two year contract (his idea, he said he doesn't like moving around and wanted to have a place settled, and he seemed sincere) three months ago. He (40-something, employed as a welder, has a steady job) and his teen son recently moved back home from North Carolina after 'going through a rough divorce.' His references checked out. His credit was ok. His mom, who's a really nice school teacher, came with him to check out the place with him and seemed nice. He seems legit and like a genuine guy just starting over from a rough thing.

* Second month's rent, (February) he was 8 days late and didn't send it until the day I called him to ask about it. In the rental contract there's a $30 late fee for each day rent is late. He explained his lateness as he's only paid every other week and when the first of the month came, it was a week away before payday. He also said he was tapped out from buying furniture and getting settled. I empathized because I know what it's like to start over in a new place and have to buy everything at once, so I waived the first three days of late fees and charged him an even $150 late fee. I explained to him over the phone and followed up with a firm, but detailed letter explaining the consequences and late fee.

* Third month's rent, (March) was postmarked on March 3, so in theory, he could have put it in the mail on the 1st and just missed the postman for that day, the next day was Sunday and it was picked up on Monday. He sent me two checks -- one from him for a portion of the rent and one for $400 more from his mom's check account. (He obviously didn't have the money and had to borrow from his mom.) He also included a note that he can't pay me the $150 late fee because things are tight and that he'd pay me with the rent in April.

My considerations:
* It took a long time to find this guy -- 4 months -- there are a lot of douchebags in Florida looking to rent with bad credit, bad references, shady stuff going on. And it's a tough market to sell, so I can't sell and the idea of finding anothe renter from afar is a huge pain in the butt. He signed a two year contract and seems like a good guy trying to start over with his son, so I don't want to just throw this away instantly, but I don't want to be a sucker.
* I'm not dying for the money, (I don't live paycheck to paycheck and I'd have my mortgage/expenses coverd with or without his rent, but the money does help pay off the place quicker) but I don't want this to be a chronic problem -- it needs to end now.
* I'm trying to be a nice guy and give this guy a chance to start over. He seems to be genuine, I met his mom, and she seemed to be a good woman who's son is in a tight spot starting over, trying to help him out.
* And I don't want to be a jerk and every month have to check postmark dates and nickle and dime him on fees, but if he's not going to send the checks on time, this is going to be an issue and stress me out since I'm far away. (It's my first home I ever owned, so I'm a little bit protective over it.)

What should I do?
* Send the $150 to a collection agency and write him a strongly-worded letter telling him that if the payments aren't postmarked by the first of each month, they're all going to the collection agency?
* Contact a lawyer and send an official letter to pay up or start eviction proceedings?
* Charge him $30 for every day the $150 is late? (This is retarded because it'd be such an insurmountable cost and will just lead to more legal issues, him leaving, me being stressed about him burning down my place, etc.)
* Give him the benefit of the doubt, send him a "This is strike two, everything must be paid and postmarked on April 1, or it goes to a collection agency" letter?
* Don't say anything, hope he pays up on the 1st of April and hope this is just a rocky start for a guy starting his life over in a new state?
* Bust kneecaps?

I'm going to be on vacation in Florida for a few days at the beginning of next month, so I'm thinking about having a serious talk with him or a talk with a lawyer down there.

I know many of you are not lawyers, but any advice on resources, similar situations or where/how I can find a solution would be appreciated. If legal council is the only real option, anyone have any tips on finding good lawyers that aren't going to rape me financially? And how much do you think is reasonable to get raped for? $200 for a threatening letter of lawyer stationary? (I really don't know much about this.)

Thanks for your help!
posted by jkl345 to Law & Government (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I sure hope you wrote "busting kneecaps" in a metaphorical sense, but just in case you meant it seriously, physically threatening the guy is beyond the pale. Even writing it is just weird.
posted by desjardins at 8:06 PM on March 10, 2008

Cousin Kevin owns a baseball bat. He swings at knee level. oops, I didn't say that, did you?

This is why being a landlord sucks. Eat it for the most part, but document everything. Save the suit until after they leave. Pressure, guilt, guilt, guilt....... Push the guilt hard, especially if you have had to step up and fix some stuff for them. If that fails, get them out. let 'em go, ask them if you need. You want them to leave, not get pissed and decide to stick it out.

As for the knee caps, really, don't do that. The sheriff putting them on the curb, that is so much more satisfying. Hopefully it is raining that day.
posted by caddis at 8:11 PM on March 10, 2008

$30 a day? That seems a bit steep, and I live in NYC. I've never been late on my rent, but I'm pretty sure that on my last two leases the late fee has been something like a flat $50 if the rent is received 10 days past the due date. I wonder if this guy realized the fee was per day. You know... I think at this point that you should re-think the whole approach to this if you want to actually keep this renter. My guess is that he didn't get the $30 per day bit, was shocked by the penalty, and is having a hard time scraping it together. And to be truthful, you seem a bit "overzealous".
posted by kimdog at 8:11 PM on March 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

$30 dollars a day is ridiculous. I wouldn't pay it either.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:16 PM on March 10, 2008 [9 favorites]

A late fee of $30 a day seems very unreasonable. Back when I was a renter, there was a one-week grace period for lateness, and if the rent was more than a week late there was just a flat late fee tacked on. I'm no longer a renter, but I have friends and family members who are, and I've never heard of someone having a per day late fee, nor have I ever heard of the landlord not offering a grace period for lateness.

As long as your renter pays within a week of the due date, try not to sweat it. It sounds like he really is trying to get his life back together. And at least you know his mom will step in and help financially. Don't be a hard-ass landlord, especially with a renter who seems (by your own admission) to be on the level in every other way.
posted by amyms at 8:19 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

* Charge him $30 for every day the $150 is late? (This is retarded because it'd be such an insurmountable cost and will just lead to more legal issues, him leaving, me being stressed about him burning down my place, etc.)

You probably can't do this. Many states have statutes forbidding the late-fee late fee. Check it out before going that route. IANAL, etc Also make sure your late fees don't exceed allowed limitations. They seem absurdly high to me.

I've never been a landlord, so maybe I'm soft, but I'd say that if he's getting the check in the mail within a day or two of the 1st I'd untwist my britches. Can you have him drop the rent off at one of your friend's place in case he misses the last mail pickup?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 8:19 PM on March 10, 2008

I'd settle down.
Of the two people in this situation, one got paid in full a couple of days late, the other owes lots of money to two different people.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:20 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd have him pick a date of the month which makes the most sense for him to be able to make the rent payment, suggesting that he choose a date which works out best with his paydays. Depending on when he gets paid and how he gets paid, he might not have cash in his account on the first, but has it on the 3rd. Make it clear that while he's picking this date, you expect him to hold up his end and get the rent to you on time, no further excuses.

Alternatively, ask him to send you half the rent every two weeks, working out the dates to coincide with his paydays. He sounds like he is living paycheck to paycheck and might not have good budgeting skills so by the time he gets to the end of the month, he's nearly tapped.

On preview, agreeing with other posters that $30/day is ridiculous, especially in what sounds like a renter's market and the bit about your squad of impromptu enforcers even more so.
posted by jamaro at 8:22 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

$30 a day is absurd, and possibly illegal, depending on the state (every state in which I've paid rent has set a limit on late fees as a percentage of the rent, which has generally come to less than $30 in toto — I've never heard of a per-day late fee). I've also never had a landlord who charges late fees based on the postmark date; they tend to be applied if the rent is received after the fifth of the month.
posted by enn at 8:23 PM on March 10, 2008

You've documented it. If he's late again, bring it up. If, when he moves out, he has done a ton of damage, bring it up again and chase after it at arbitration. Otherwise, just use it as a tool and don't go after the guy for it. He obviously doesn't have the money -- and he did get the money to you. Depending on where you live, $30 a day might fall under usury. E.g., if the rent is $1,000 a month, that's still 3% a day or around 1100% a year....
posted by acoutu at 8:26 PM on March 10, 2008

If I were you, I'd write your renter a letter telling him you've reduced the late fee to something a little more reasonable ($50 perhaps), but clearly indicating that you won't accept any other excuses and that he must pay the late fee with his next month's rent. At this point, you don't really know if this guy is the sort of guy who is constantly paying late or just had a rough couple months right after moving in. You don't want to pay the expense of evicting him and then lose the rent payments while you wait to find a new tenant. Wait until April to find out which side this guys tends to and then proceed accordingly.

I've been a landlord while renting out my own condo and I've received a payment or two a little late. I know it can be difficult to accept, but you can't expect everything to go perfectly. Save your worrying for when things go really wrong.
posted by ssg at 8:28 PM on March 10, 2008

Obviously, IAAL, but that's not why I recommend that you consult a lawyer yourself about this situation. You really need to know what your options are-- and more importantly, what they are not, including that $30 per day charge, which would open you up to God knows what. The law of landlord/tenant is almost exclusively state law driven, except in some cities where there are local ordinances covering it as well, so no one here could give you specific advice on what to do.

How to find a good lawyer? If your state has board certification for lawyers, someone who's board certified in real estate might be a place to look. A look through the lawyer yellow page ads will tell you quickly if your state has board certification, because it'll be set out in the ad. is the online face of Martindale-Hubbell, the nationwide lawyer listing. They have coded ratings for lawyers, which are better than nothing, but are relics of a good old boy network. Google for "real estate attorney" or variations on that and your town's or state's name-- someone's probably paid for those words, someone who's looking for people like you. Check your state bar's website too-- go to for a list, or just Google it. They often have a lawyer list by specialty.

I am not a big fan of threatening letters by themselves. When I was in private practice and someone like you came to me, wanting me to write a threatening letter, I'd only do it on condition that you authorize me to sue if the recipient didn't do what we wanted him to do within the time limit we set. I never threaten what I'm not willing to do. Otherwise, I'm just selling stationery, and selling a bit of my reputation every time I make an empty threat.

How much is a fair charge? Anyone good in a major city is probably going to charge you $200-300 for an hour of his/her time, and while you could have learned what (s)he will tell you on your own, it's cheap for you now, compared with the damage you could do to yourself by taking one of the half-cocked actions you mentioned. You could always ask for a flat fee quote for a consultation and a letter, if the lawyer recommends it. Think of it this way-- there are times when hiring someone who knows what they're doing (and this is probably going to be a simple case for a competent real estate attorney, once (s)he talks to you and reads the lease) is not only the best thing to do, it's the most economical in the long run. Here's a landlord metaphor-- sometimes your rental property will have a plumbing problem that you can fix easily, but other times, you need a plumber.

You need a lawyer.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 8:29 PM on March 10, 2008

What should I do?
* Don't say anything, hope he pays up on the 1st of April and hope this is just a rocky start for a guy starting his life over in a new state?


That would be much more empathetic than waiving three days of an exorbitant $30/day late fee. By all counts, the man is doing what he can to get the rent paid to you. You've admitted that it will be a hassle for you to find another tenant of equal (although not perfect) reputation. Hiring a collection agency for a measly $150 is also ridiculous.
posted by Asherah at 8:35 PM on March 10, 2008

I would have to agree that $30/day is exorbitant. In most places I have lived (and I've lived all over the US) the landlords give a deadline of 7-10 days after the 1st of the month, in the understanding that not everyone gets paid at the 1st, and that some people DO live paycheck to paycheck. I can understand your feelings of protectiveness over your place, however, I think that waiting to worry about collection agencies, etc. until he actually doesn't pay is a better option than stressing yourself out over a couple of days...especially since you aren't dying for the money. I also agree that you should consult a lawyer regarding the details of your lease (especially the $30/day charge) because they may not be legal. A lot of state's have Tenant's Unions that list laws, and things landlords are allowed/not allowed to do when renting. That may be a good place for information for you as well as your tenant.
posted by nikksioux at 8:50 PM on March 10, 2008

IANAL, but it doesn't seem that, legally, the $30 a day late fee is a problem if it is written into the lease. This is based on some pretty simple poking around with Google and variations on the theme of "florida rental law:"

I find it obnoxious but I'm not the dumbass who signed the lease. Ahem.

But, this is all a bit besides the point in terms of the original question. I see your perspective in terms of "nipping the situation in the bud," and I think it will just take persistence and awareness of your legal rights. Getting a real lawyer to at least advise seems like the best plan so far. If you are not so hard up for cash, as someone who doesn't have a problem paying the mortgage WITHOUT rental income should be, then you should suck it up and not worry so much about being "raped financially," Mr. Nice Guy who charges $30 dollars a day late fees with no grace period and jokes about busting kneecaps...sheesh.
posted by dubitable at 9:44 PM on March 10, 2008

Seriously consider whether you're cut out to be a landlord.

Is the money you're saving from not having a professional handle the rental side appears not to be worth the hassle and personal involvement you have with this situation?
posted by holgate at 10:03 PM on March 10, 2008

Rarely does AskMe speak with one voice. This should tell you something. It sounds like you've got good possibilities with a renter who could really be a reliable tenant. Reduce the late fee to somewhere between $20 to $50 total, come up with a less machivelian policy for the future and see if the 1st of the month is really the best day to have rent due for him.

Lawyering up doesn't seem wise, although paying for a single consultation with a Florida property lawyer might be a useful way to gain some knowledge that will help you in the coming years with your rental.
posted by Happydaz at 10:05 PM on March 10, 2008

Nthing that $30/day is unreasonable.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:12 PM on March 10, 2008

150 dollar late fee? Thirty dollars a DAY? Wow. I hope I never, ever rent from someone like you. A tenant being months behind in rent is an issue. A tenant paying a couple days late is just somehting you deal with. Seriously, give the guy a chance to get grounded and get stable before you run a hard working guy into financial ruin.
posted by waylaid at 10:12 PM on March 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

You've got a two year lease, a tenant obviously working hard to pay the rent and so presumably otherwise responsible with your property, with a family including a kid, which means he's probabaly not having all-night keggers for all hsi rowdy friends at your property.

Dude. Count your blessings, and stop sweating the guy like some sleazy payday lending usurer for $30/day late fees. That's just outrageous, likely illegal, and makes you look like a control-freak or a greedy bastard.

Keep sweating him, he's going to break the lease and move out, and you're going to be scrambling to find a renyter while yopu're out of state. Bad for him, worse for you, and all over a ridiculous need to "punish" or "control" the renter, who seems to be doing all he can to do right by you.

As you yourself wrote, you're over-protective and an first-time landlord. You're going to give yourself an ulcer, and mess up a good thing, and have to find another (possibly less conscientious) renter, all because you can't relax. Relax! You're not (as you wrote) even relying on this guy's rent payments to pay your mortgage. Life is short, you're one a lucky few who doesn't have money problems, don't go creating problems (and possibly legal liability) for yourself.

Take it from me, a stressed out guy with cardiac problems. Relax, and don't ruin the good thing you have going with this tenant. Don't make yourself into a stressed-out jerk over a measly $150 dollars. It's just not fucking worth it. $150? Hell, that's not even half a day's wage. It's what you spend on a dinner date or a trip to the grocery. Big deal!

You'll be doing yourself a great big favor the minute you write your tenant, tell him there are no hard feelings and he should forget the $150 and the late fee is now $30 flat per month, and only after the 10th of the month.

The days and hours you'll gain not stewing over this will be worth far more to you than $150 in terms of your health and ability to use that time on productive tasks.
posted by orthogonality at 10:14 PM on March 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

Yeah, nthing the "$30/day late fee is draconian" response. I am not a landlord, but I am a renter and I have friends and relatives who are landlords. Of four apartments I've rented, the late fees have tended to be 10% extra rent if paid within a week, or $50, in that range. I've never paid rent late, but that seems reasonable to me. $150 for 3 days.. not so much.
posted by Alterscape at 10:20 PM on March 10, 2008

And I don't want to be a jerk and every month have to check postmark dates and nickle and dime him on fees, but if he's not going to send the checks on time, this is going to be an issue and stress me out since I'm far away. (It's my first home I ever owned, so I'm a little bit protective over it.)

Then don't be a jerk! Charging a $150 late fee instead of a $240 late fee does not count as giving the guy a break, if things are already so tight for him!

This man is living in your house that you own and care about, so it is in your interest to have a good relationship with this man.
posted by qvtqht at 10:26 PM on March 10, 2008

Sure, you got this goose, see, and he lays these eggs, see, that are made of gold, right? But I bet you could get more eggs out of that goose if you charged it $30 a day for every day without an egg.

Look, let the $150 drop and feel fucking ecstatic if you ever see it. But feel free to have one of those "I need this in on the first" conversations, and feel free to evict him if he can't meet that burden. I, bein' a frequent renter and occasional delinquent, would emphasize that I see this as a broach of a "friendly" relationship—if I can coast a couple days on rent (so long as it's in, so long as I make it in on time more months than I don't), I'm going to be a lot more forgiving about all of the clauses in the lease and state law that mandate that you do things that you might not want to.

Granted, I'm probably more accustomed to scummier landlords than you, but I'm really not seeing where you'll ultimately come out of this better by demanding $30 a day.
posted by klangklangston at 10:36 PM on March 10, 2008

If you're "trying to be a nice guy", I'd leave your kneecap-busting friends out of this. And $30 a day is simply usurious.
posted by trip and a half at 11:16 PM on March 10, 2008

At my apartment complex, we don't have late fees until after the 5th of each month, to accommodate for payday differences, etc. Even then, it's $5 a day until the 10th of the month, and management will sometimes forgive that if you go talk to them with a rare but understandable set of circumstances. Hell, I didn't pay my rent until the 5th this month and felt no worry about it.

Your renter has backup from his mom, as evidenced by the separate check from her. I understand this was your home at one point, but now it's a rental property. Please, please, please cut this guy some slack. Also, please, revise your late fees.

For all you know, this could be the renter, like me, who'll fix minor things (and fix them well, I might add) and never nag you once about it. He might even forgive things like not being able to access the kitchen for 4 days while folks jackhammer the floor and dig a grave-sized hole in the kitchen to fix a plumbing problem and not even think of suing you. I actually had that happen a couple years ago.

It's likely this guy is doing the best he can, and it's only been a few months.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:00 AM on March 11, 2008

In the rental contract there's a $30 late fee for each day rent is late.

I doubt this is legal. Most places have laws that govern such things.

If you're a good guy, go find out what the law is, conform the late fees he owes you to what the law allows and no more, apologize for the incorrect charges, and be glad he pays his bills.

If you're a bad guy, and are simply trying to find ways to convince him to pay your ridiculous late fees because you know you don't have a legal leg to stand on...well, that's it, then.
posted by davejay at 12:26 AM on March 11, 2008

Changing the emphasis of my thought in mid-sentence leads to incoherence. Oh well: the gist was there.

You know the relationship questions that have "don't be that guy" as answers? Well, this is a relationship, and don't be that crappy landlord guy. If you think you're being suckered, deal with it now and hand the job of finding and dealing with a new renter off onto a property manager; if not, you're going to have to establish some kind of relationship that isn't based upon checking the mailbox every five minutes at the start of the month, and is structured to ensure that rent is the first thing that comes out of his wages.

Don't take this personally: I doubt I'd be comfortable trying to do all this from a distance. That's why there are professional property managers. Yeah, they take their cut, but you'll be buffered from involvement with tenants and maintenance -- and you wouldn't expect a landlord to do your (proper) job.
posted by holgate at 1:04 AM on March 11, 2008

You'll be doing yourself a great big favor the minute you write your tenant, tell him there are no hard feelings and he should forget the $150 and the late fee is now $30 flat per month, and only after the 10th of the month

Ditto ortho, 100%. That would change you from a jerk landlord to a pretty nice one, in one easy step. And you would ease this guy's mind a lot, as obviously $150 is a lot more money to him than it is to you.

As for the fee structure in itself, hopefully by now you realize it was ridiculous. I can't believe anyone even agreed to it, honestly. I lived in a few apartments in my renting days, and the late fees ranged from $0 to $25, and even then that was only after a grace period, which generally ranged from the 7th through the 10th of the month. Requiring postmark on the 1st is rigid and jerky.

Think back to your younger days when you were broke, and what a relief it would be if someone did this for you. This is your chance to be the nice guy and give a broke guy a break. I sincerely hope you do it.
posted by boomchicka at 1:17 AM on March 11, 2008

And if you think "paid 8 days late one time but otherwise is paid in full" constitutes a "problem renter," you should be counting your blessings.
posted by boomchicka at 1:18 AM on March 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I never heard of late fees before. I heard of eviction for not paying the rent but I didn't know there were late fees.
posted by sully75 at 3:57 AM on March 11, 2008

Why use your friends as a pseudo-management company? Why not just pay a management company to sort this out for you? They deal with the current tenant, collect the rent, arrange repairs, and deal with the general headache for a nominal fee. I have a friend who rents out high-spec condos in Beverly Hills who pays 10% as a management fee to not have to deal with the whiniest tenants on earth. A local real estate broker or property managment company in your area is bound to charge less.

Not going to beat you up for being a newbie landlord, but I wonder if you have everything else in order. Liability insurance for your property, for example. It's just that if you're sweating like this over a guy who doesn't pay you on the first, on the dot, I'm wondering if you might not need to get some professional property management advice more than legal advice.

No, don't do the collection agency thing. Not only is it silly, it will annoy a decent tenant. In addition, you won't see the full $150 anyway from them, as they charge a commission of their own.

Write him a letter saying that you're dropping the late fee as a goodwill gesture. Say that you appreciate he's doing all he can, but that you really do need the money by X date. Offer to draft an addendum to the rental agreement that will change the payment date to something better for him to pay you regularly and add a freaking grace period, fer chrissakes.

Tell him honestly that the one thing that's bound to send you round the bend is late rent. You don't have to get all sweaty and neurotic about it, but just make it clear to him that this rent is an important income source for you and you can't pay your other bills otherwise. If he sees you as a human being rather than a stereotype, he'll do his level best to pay you.

I've been in the UK for long enough to forget if the US has standing orders... but you may want to ask him if he'd be willing to set something up with his bank to have the payment automatically come out of his account to yours at agreed points in the month... just so he can budget & doesn't have to think about it.

Best of luck...
posted by Grrlscout at 4:59 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

$30 per day late fee is outrageous. I'm sure your rental contract has provisions for varying its terms given sufficient notice yada yada, and if I were in your position, I'd be varying that late fee way, way down, double pronto.
posted by flabdablet at 5:44 AM on March 11, 2008

Guys, I think he may have been joking about busting kneecaps.

Regardless, I would never want to rent from you.

I empathized because I know what it's like to start over in a new place and have to buy everything at once, so I waived the first three days of late fees and charged him an even $150 late fee.

Yeah, that sounds real empathetic. I'd nix the fee entirely. You even stated that he seems like a nice guy, and from your post, all signs point to other than paying the rent late *once*, he hasn't done anything wrong to warrant an omg "serious talk" with him.

Basically, as you said, he just seems like someone that's trying to get back on their feet. Cut him a little slack.
posted by booticon at 6:00 AM on March 11, 2008

$30 a day is wildly steep. There's someone "getting raped" here, but it's not you. Did you make that up, or was it in some standard contract you got from a website or a Nolo book or something? I, like a few of the posters above, have only ever had a $50 flat fee for late payment, and that was always if the payment wasn't received by the 5th or 10th of the month, depending on the landlord, the state, etc.
The problem here is your expectations. Adjust them. Receiving the rent within 5-10 days of the first of the month is normal for a local landlord. You're not local. Relax.
When you start receiving the rent more than 10 days past due more than once, then start worrying about this. As it stands, you would get exactly nowhere with eviction proceedings (they're harder than you think; you have a 2 year contract with a person who has paid you), and your friends might well get arrested for harassing him on your behalf (even if they don't, they'll make it abundantly clear that his landlord is a jerk).
You've got to calm down. This is how landlords turn into awful landlords from hell.
posted by willpie at 6:28 AM on March 11, 2008

Nthing that $30 a day is way too high and that some kind of grace period after the 1st of the month is standard. And that since it's not like you're managing a lot of properties, working out with him the best day of the month for rent to be due could be helpful to both of you.
posted by yarrow at 7:16 AM on March 11, 2008

I think someone suggested this earlier, but if he's on a 2 week pay schedule, you might also consider offering him the chance to send rent every 2 weeks rather than every month. It wouldn't be half his monthly rent, but rather 1/26th of his annual rent.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:46 AM on March 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the reality check everyone; I'll simmer down.

The contract was from a lawyer I did an work exchange for (he created a lease form with fill-in-the-blanks for some work I did for him) so it should be legally straight.

$30 is a bit high, but I emphasized that multiple times with him because I obviously wanted it to act as a deterrent to paying late due to the distance. I've had to pay $20 and $25 with previous leases I've signed, so I didn't think it was too crazy. I made it very clear to him so he knew what he was getting into.

I think I phrased the question wrong, the money isn't the major issue, I just don't want to be a chronic issue and seem like a push-over, so I thought I should make a statement / make things very clear in the beginning. But I stand corrected. From now on I won't stress about it and I'll just assume that the rent won't be paid until we're 1/3 into a new month.

Thanks for all your help and comments.

And obviously, I'm not serious about busting kneecaps. Lighten up. :)
posted by jkl345 at 8:09 AM on March 11, 2008

This is an example of why I will never rent another condo again for the rest of my life (or rent from anyone other than a company dedicated to leasing property). From my experience, individuals who own property are far too unreasonable in what should be expected from tenants and what should happen in the event that something unexpected occurs.

When you make an agreement with someone to rent your property, it needs to be fair to both parties. For example, when choosing a late fee, think to yourself, "how much am I harmed (financially) by someone being 10 days late on rent?" Then think, "how much would I expect to be charged if I were renting a place and couldn't pay the rent on time for some reason"? The fee should be somewhere in between, which I seriously doubt is anywhere near $30/day, unless you're depositing his checks into a savings account with an APR of 375%. This goes for any other condition in the lease as well (i.e. don't try to charge $500 for lost keys).

If I were you, I'd be happy that you have a decent (but not absolutely perfect) tenant. I would forgive him of being late the first time, and charge a one-time $50 fee if the rent is more than a week late in the future. If he ends up being so late that he's more than a month behind, then I'd try to work out an agreement with him to get him caught up, and if that didn't work, I'd consider more serious action if I thought that the back rent would be worth more than the money spent collecting it.

I'd also consider talking to someone who manages property professionally, to get some perspective on being a landlord (maybe there are classes or seminars for this?)
posted by helios at 8:27 AM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

It would really help if you extend the 'hard deadline' of the 1st of the month to the 5th or 10th. So the 1st is still ' soft due date' for rent payment but you wouldn't penalized him until after the 5th or 10th. This will help him if he's living paycheck to paycheck or if he's forgetful.

I recently moved from my old apartment (hard deadline is the 5th) to a new place where it's the 3rd and it's really hard for me to remember to pay on time. Mostly because one of the five days will be on a weekend, allowing me time to pay all of my monthly expenses, vs 3 days, where they can all be work days.
posted by vocpanda at 11:39 AM on March 11, 2008

Best answer: Yes, the penalty is too high; renegotiate with him, but also be really clear that you must have the rent to pay your mortgage, and he must pay it on time. period. When tenants pay late in the beginning of their tenancy, it just gets worse. Tell him, straight out, that you just have to have the rent on time. I tell tenants the truth, which is that late rent has burned me in the past, so I'm intolerant. You may want to consider billing him; send a bill on March 15 for the April rent due the 1st. Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

IAALandlord, and I'm much, much easier to work with than the corporate apartment complexes, where they will hold you to a lease no matter what, screw up your credit, and always try to keep your security deposit.
posted by theora55 at 12:50 PM on March 11, 2008

this is going to be an issue and stress me out since I'm far away

Getting the rent ten days late is a little thing, in the scheme of things. If this is going to cause you a lot of stress, what's it going to be like when there's a major plumbing problem and you can't even get a plumber to go out for 3 days? Some people aren't cut out to be landlords.

It took you four months to find this guy. $150 is a drop in bucket compared to a four month vacancy. He's paid you all the actual rent. In my state, it's not even legal to charge a late fee until the fifth day late.

He's not a problem renter. Problem renters let their dog pee everywhere, don't tell you about plumbing leaks, stiff you on the rent for two months, and move out in the middle of the night, leaving the fridge unplugged and filled with rotting food and abandoning their starving incontinent puppy. Then you have the place empty while you tear out the carpet, replace the floor under the water heater, and try to get rid of the combined odor of urine and rotting food.
posted by yohko at 2:08 PM on March 11, 2008

I work in a property management office, and our late fee is $25.00 and it only kicks in after 7 days past the first. $30.00 a day... whoa.

He's not a problem renter. Problem renters let their dog pee everywhere, don't tell you about plumbing leaks, stiff you on the rent for two months, and move out in the middle of the night, leaving the fridge unplugged and filled with rotting food and abandoning their starving incontinent puppy. Then you have the place empty while you tear out the carpet, replace the floor under the water heater, and try to get rid of the combined odor of urine and rotting food.

I do agree with the above. Problem renters also pretend they don't have pets when the apply, the pet turns out to be a pit bull, and they have three other people living in the unit that you don't know about.
posted by Savannah at 8:00 PM on March 11, 2008

Best answer: An attorney wrote that provision? Huh. That does not sound like you've got the right attorney. You need (and not just for form-writing but for landlording in general, which constantly brings up the need for expert legal guidance) an attorney who specializes in real estate law, specifically landlord-tenant, specifically for your state and (if possible) locality. There are lots of RE attorneys who only write 10+ year leases for strip malls and office parks; their vast knowledge of commercial real estate law is useless to you. Ditto for the RE attorneys who focus on closing home sales, etc.

The right attorney knows what the local laws allow, and what the local courts typically deem reasonable. 1100% APR isn't going to fly, and risks pissing off a judge if it ever comes to that. Regardless of how much you pressed for that, a counselor's value is in giving you a firm, well reasons, 'no' when what you want is so counter-productive.

Meantime, pickup a copy of the Nolo Press landlording book for your state. Best investment you'll make in your condo (and your serenity) this year. Tons of useful advice for keeping business on the right track.

By the way, when the ordinary due date fall on a weekend or holiday (e.g. 3/1), it's common for the law to treat the next business day (3/3) as the proper due date. Check what your local situation is. He may have been fine there.

The late fee needs to be revised way down, yes. The concern over late payment does not. In my experience, setting firm expectations with tenants from the beginning, and following through promptly and in full, earns respect; waiving his contractual obligations is what rightly gives a tenant the impression that the lease is merely a suggestion or up for monthly re-negotiation. Stop that. Call immediately when the check isn't in hand at 5pm on the last day of the lease-stipulated grace period. You don't need to be mean or cajoling, and for god's sake don't even joke about leg breakers (wtf?). But the fact that he's already floundering in month 2 (late) and 3 (supplement from mom) is a big red flag that he may have overestimated his ability to meet rent. From now on:

"Hey, Joe, I notice we've reached the end of the grace period without a check from you. As you know, late fees start accruing tomorrow morning. So just want to give you this courtesy head's up." If he can't pay immediately, but isn't blowing you off, ask what date he will commit to having it (incl late fee) to you. The day after that is when you think seriously about dropping a '3-day notice to terminate' on his doorstep*. That's your dead serious move. As dubitable noted, use it only if you're ready to follow through. Otherwise you lose all credibility, and will never get on-time rent from him again.

*The Nolo book will provide the form, and details on the correct way to serve it.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:52 PM on March 11, 2008

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