It happens to pretty much everyone at some point in life: An emergency, poor planning or just plain old overspending leaves you short on cash to pay your monthly bills.
When it comes to rent, in particular, this can be tough. While you can usually get utility companies to work with you on partial or late payments, landlords can be a different story. You certainly don't want to be evicted for non-payment, but what are your options?
1. Know What Your Lease Says
Before you start worrying about the consequences of not making your full rent payment, read through your lease and know what, if any, options you have. If you don't understand the terms of your lease and what your landlord's legal recourse is in the case of rent non-payment, contact your local tenant's council if your community has one. If not, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has housing counselors available to assist you. Another option is the Legal Aid Society, which has offices all over the U.S. and even offers free pre-eviction assistance if you can't afford a lawyer.
2. Talk to Your Landlord
As soon as you know you're going to be short on rent, talk to your landlord and be honest about the situation.
"Attempt to reach an agreement to get the rent current," said Juliana Gonzales, executive director of the Austin Tenants' Council in Austin, Texas. "It is best for the tenant to get a clear, written agreement that the landlord will accept the late rent on a certain date and, in exchange, will allow the tenant to continue under the original lease agreement."
3. Make a Partial or Late Payment
Once you've come to an agreement with your landlord, and have it in writing, make your payment, and do it by check or make sure your landlord gives you a receipt. You need to prove your payment history, Gonzales said.
"If the landlord will not write you a receipt, write the receipt yourself and obtain the landlord's signature for your records," she said.
If your landlord will not agree to accept a late or partial payment, try again, Gonzales advised.
"Make a second attempt to pay, on the same day if possible," she said. And take a friend with you as a witness. If the landlord still refuses to accept the payment, Gonzales said you should send the check by certified mail and request a return receipt verifying it was delivered.
4. Apply for a Grant
If your situation is going to cause you difficulty paying your rent for more than just a month, you might want to consider applying for a grant.
Some charities offer one-time grants that can help to cover your rent costs while you sort through a financial hardship. Qualifications vary, but the grants generally do not have to be paid back.
- Catholic Charities offers emergency assistance grants. Applicants must apply in person and talk with a case worker.
- Modest Needs offers a Self Sufficiency Grant available to anyone with a job. It provides up to $1,000 to cover an emergency expense.
- 211.org is a website that can help you find local charities that can provide rent assistance. If you don't have a computer, you can use one for free at your local library branch.
If you've found yourself unable to pay your rent, chances are you need to take a good, hard look at creating a monthly budget. The difference between people who are financially secure and those who are not often comes down to whether they make a budget — and stick to it.
Remember that being late on your rent doesn't just stress you out and make your relationship with your landlord difficult, it can also impact your credit. Some credit scoring models, like VantageScore, may include rent payments, which may show up like an auto loan (if you have a defined lease term), or like a charge card (when you pay month-to-month).
Your good — or bad — rental history may also show up on rental screening products offered by the major credit reporting agencies and can make it difficult to rent again. If you want to keep track of how late rent payments might be impacting your credit score, you can view your free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.
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