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Collecting rent from a tenant who won't pay

Many New York landlords have found themselves stuck in the unfavorable position of having a tenant who is behind on rent payments. Whether they are continually late in paying or are several months behind, you may question your options to enforce timely payments.

Managing rent-delinquent tenants can be one of the most challenging and unenjoyable parts of being a landlord. Tenants may pepper you with excuses or conveniently dodge your frequent attempts to collect rent. Here are four considerations to manage difficult tenants and collect rent on time:

Follow through on your late-payment policy

Your lease should contain terms for late payments. When a tenant is late on rent, assess the situation, including by checking whether this is the first time the tenant has paid rent late. Stick to your policy, whether that includes issuing a written reminder, penalizing them with a late fee or more.

Talk things out

Whether your first steps went ignored or the late payments persist, your next step should be to informally talk with the tenant. Putting a face behind the rent payment can alert your tenant to the fact that if they don’t pay rent, the responsibility falls on you. Be careful to strike the right tone from the start: be understanding and respectful, yet firm.

Issue a formal notice

In a last effort to collect payment, you must demand rent either orally or in written form, according to your lease. Known as a “pay or quit notice,” New York law requires you to issue this formal demand that allows the tenant at least three full days to pay the late sum. This notice also allows the tenant the opportunity to move out instead of potentially facing eviction.

Assess your options to evict the tenant

When your notice goes ignored, it’s time to evaluate your legal options. While it may seem counterintuitive, in some cases to both avoid eviction and leave the unit in good condition, you may offer the tenant payment in exchange for their vacating the premises as soon as possible.

If even this fails, you can start your case to evict the tenant as soon as the three-day period following the notice expires. Start your nonpayment of rent case in New York City Housing Court. Be prepared to show proof of your notice to the tenant, the tenant’s history of late payments and all steps taken prior to filing the eviction action.

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