Short on Rent

A friend called me last night to ask what to do when you’re short on rent.

My suggestion was to be honest with your landlord and admit that you don’t have the money and lay out what you can pay now and when you will pay down the rest. It’s this person’s last month in this living situation, too, so this is the last payment. To me, owning up to the situation and being transparent about it is a huge step up from tenants who vanish or avoid the landlord and then disappear, but maybe it … isn’t. I could really use some perspective on this! — C.

My suggestion for this particular friend is similar to the one C. suggested: Don’t spend any time avoiding the situation and notify the landlord about it immediately. Work out a date when you can pay in full and pay what you can now. Did the friend give the landlord a deposit when she or he moved in? Perhaps the landlord could just keep that money.

Not paying the money and disappearing should not be on the list of options. A landlord can sue a tenant for unpaid rent, and if the tenant doesn’t show up in court, a court can issue a judgment that may show up on the tenant’s credit report, and the tenant may later have to deal with collection agencies who will release the hounds, because that’s what they do.

I asked some friends who’ve made late rent payments about what they’ve done, and notifying the landlord about the late payment was always number one on their list. They also, variously, got a short-term loan from a loved one (usually parents) to make up the rest of their rent, scoured Craigslist for odd jobs (the common theme for not being able to pay rent was “sudden unemployment), and took out a cash advance on credit cards (note: not recommended due to the fees and high interest rates).

But disappearing on someone to avoid a situation isn’t the solution. It’s the whole “dad says he’s going to the gas station for cigarettes but never comes back” trick, which is just awful. And if you don’t think the landlord will bother going to court, think again. They love getting their money.