What Happens If You Can’t Pay Your Rent?


One of the hardest financial challenges to face is if you can’t pay your rent. Your residence naturally offers a place of security and continuity. Which means, if you are having trouble paying the rent, it’s vital that you do what you can to protect your ability to live in your apartment or home. It’s probably a good idea to have a backup plan as well. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself in a position where you’re afraid you might not be able to pay your rent.

Know Your Rental Agreement and the Law

Make sure you understand your rental agreement. In some cases, you might have a “grace period” before you are charged a late fee, or before your landlord can take other actions. Know what your rental agreement entails, and pay attention to the terms.

You should also take the time to learn your state law. Rental agreements are governed by the laws of your state, so check to see what types of renter protection policies are in place. You might have some time — if you act in good faith — to make good on your rental agreement before your landlord can evict you from the apartment or home.

Contact Your Landlord

If you know that you won’t be able to pay rent on time, you need to contact your landlord immediately. Make sure you do so within the limits of the law and your rental agreement.

Your situation might be temporary. If this is the case, let your landlord know that the rent will be a little bit late. Let your landlord know in writing, and ask for an extension. In some cases, your landlord might be willing to grant you a one-time extension. This is especially true if you have been a good renter up until this point.

If possible, make a show of good faith by paying a portion of the rent on time. That way, your landlord knows you are earnest about discharging the rest of your obligation as soon as you can. Let your landlord know when he or she can expect the rest of the payment, and then work to get that payment on time.

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Get Help for Long-Term Problems

When the situation is a short-term issue, usually you just need to explain things to your landlord, and then pay the rent as quickly as you can. However, if there is a long-term problem, such as a job loss, a sudden decrease in income, or a large medical cost, you might need to take other action.

Check at the local and state level for programs that are aimed at helping low-income individuals and families pay for housing. There are often charities and government programs that can help you arrange your budget so that you can pay your rent. Food stamps can free up some of the grocery money for rent, and there are programs that help low-income households pay their utility bills.

In some cases, you might have to take drastic steps, like moving in with friends or family until you get back on your feet. Unfortunately, you might not always be able to stay in your rental if you can’t pay the rent.

Create a Plan for the Future

Living paycheck to paycheck is discouraging. If you find yourself habitually trying to come up with the money for rent each month, it might be time to create a plan for the future. Look at your budget, and try to find ways to save more money each month.

It’s also possible for you to earn more money. There are legitimate work from home jobs you can do to earn a little extra cash, and other options for earning more money in other ways. Ultimately, you will need to take action and hopefully in the future you’ll be in a position where you don’t need to worry about being unable to pay the rent.

Image credit: sbotas

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  • Unfortunately, I’ve found that people who can’t pay their rent on time once, generally can’t pay their rent on time ALL the time. I understand that it’s a lot of money, but it’s not ok to leave your landlord or your roommate in the lurch.

    • That is true. Thanks for your comment, Stefanie!

    • steph

      so true I have been on my own for 5 years this month is the first I wont be able to pay rent. Its depressing

      • mya

        I understand it can be a pain and very stressful

  • Sherry Rasmussen

    So I live in subsidized housing and recently got a part-time job so I could pay the bills I had not been able to pay. I found that I was short every month on just my social security check and I was doing good with the extra little money I was getting. I was giving them my pay stubs every month as we are suppose to do. Well just this last month they have raised my rent by $200 more per month and not only can I not afford this increase but my hours at work have been reduced to about half of what I was making. I am suppose to start paying this increase with my November rent and am in a quandary as to what I should do. I could quit my job but hate to have to do that. Anyone have any ideas?