When you move into a rental unit, one of the more obvious expenses you incur is monthly rent. Before you even move into an apartment, you will be expected to pay the first month’s rent upfront, and in some cases, the last month’s rent as well. So when a landlord turns down your payment for rent, which usually serves as part of their income, you are right to worry about their reasons for doing so, and whether it will lead to your eviction from the rental unit as a result.
Can a landlord refuse rent payment? There are some instances where a landlord can turn down rent payment from a tenant:
- If you are trying to pay only a portion of your rent instead of the whole amount, a landlord can refuse payment since a lease agreement usually requires the amount to be paid in full.
- If you try to make them after you have already been given an eviction notice unless they are meant to cover the rental arrears you may have.
- If the term of your lease comes to an end and your landlord has taken the necessary steps you a notice to vacate the property, he/she is not required to accept any further payments from you.
- If your lease requires you to pay rent through a specific method, for example by check, and you try to pay it through another.
If your landlord starts turning down your rental payments, this could be a cause for worry since you could be evicted from the apartment for not paying rent. Some dodgy landlords may use this approach to get rid of tenants they can’t legally evict from their units. It is important to be informed about your rights in such a situation so that you are not evicted from your apartment unlawfully.
A. Understanding the basics of the landlord-tenant law
Although laws that concern the landlord-tenant relationship vary from one state to another, most of them protect the tenant from eviction without cause. However, landlords have the right to serve a tenant an eviction notice for cause in the following instances:
- You caused serious damage to their property
- You have been conducting criminal activity in your apartment
- You repeatedly pay your rent late
- You violated one or more terms of the lease agreement several times and you haven’t taken any corrective actions as a result.
In any of these scenarios, the landlord will serve you with an “unconditional quit’ notice. This is usually the harshest notice you will receive since you won’t have the chance to make up for the mistakes you made, and you can’t keep living in the apartment.
Less severe notices you may receive from your landlord include:
- “Pay rent or quit” – With this kind of notice, the landlord usually gives you a certain number of days within which you are expected to pay rent that is past the due date. If you fail to do so, you will be required to vacate the apartment.
- “Cure or quit” – You will receive this notice if you go against a specified term or condition of the lease agreement. Generally, you will have a set time period within which you can rectify your wrongs or face eviction.
According to all state laws, you are required to pay rent as stipulated in the rental agreement, so what happens when the landlord turns down your payments? As long as you haven’t gone against the terms of your lease and you are within the landlord-tenant law, the landlord turning down your payment shouldn’t affect your rights as a tenant as long as you can provide proof that you paid the rent or at least attempted to do so.
B. Proving that you paid the rent
In case your landlord turns down full rent payment from you that is not late and you haven’t received any notice, then you need to have proof that you made an attempt to fulfill the rental agreement. To do this, start by sending the rental payment via registered or certified mail to the landlord’s address that is listed on the lease agreement. This mail option will give you the documentation of when you made the payments and when the landlord received it at his/her address. If they choose to turn down the payment, it will also be documented. In this case, open an escrow account where you can deposit the rejected funds. This way, should it come to showing a court, you will have proof that you went to great lengths to pay your rent.
C. Instances where a landlord can legally refuse rent payment
There are instances where your landlord can legally refuse to accept your rent payments:
- When you make partial payments – If you are attempting to only pay a portion of the rent, your landlord has the right to turn down your payment. With most rental agreements and leases you will sign, there is usually a specified amount of rent that you agree to pay on a specific date. Consequently, the landlord is not required to accept partial payments unless he/she has established a habit of doing so. If your landlord has had no issues accepting late payments in the past, then he/she cannot turn down your partial payments without giving you notice that he/she will only accept full rent payment going forward. However, keep in mind that a landlord is highly unlikely to accept partial payments especially if he/she is trying to get rid of you.
- If you have already received an eviction notice – If you have received an eviction notice from your landlord as a result of going against the terms of your lease agreement, you will be expected to vacate the unit. Trying to reverse an eviction by offering to pay rent will most likely result in your landlord refusing to accept your payment. The only payments the landlord will accept in this situation are rental arrears.
- When your lease runs out – If your lease comes to an end with no signs of being renewed, your landlord can refuse further rent payments you try to make.
- When you try to make payments in the wrong form – If you try to make your rent payments in a form that is not specified in the rental agreement, your landlord is under no obligation to accept it. For example, if your lease specifically stipulates that you have to pay by either check or cash, then your landlord has the right to refuse a payment you try to make through other forms such as traveler’s checks or money orders.
D. When you are served an eviction notice without cause
In some cases, your landlord may require you to move out even when you are willing to pay rent and you haven’t gone against the terms of the lease. This is known as eviction without cause, and in order for a landlord to effect it, you have to be given time to plan your move out.
In most states, a landlord is required to give you a 30-60 day notice to vacate the property if he/she plans to evict you without cause. This period is meant to allow you to find a new home. However, there are some exceptions to the right of landlords to evict a tenant without cause. In many rent control cities, a landlord is required to provide proof of a legally recognized reason for evicting a tenant. These statutes are referred to as “just cause eviction protection” and effectively protect tenants from eviction without cause.
E. Discrimination and retaliation
Even though a landlord has the right to serve you an eviction notice without cause, some evictions are illegal. For instance, a landlord cannot refuse rent payment in an attempt to evict you because of your religion, race, family status, or country of origin. Your landlord cannot evict you as punishment for taking action against him/her either. For example, if there is a problem with your heating system and you decide to take action by filing a complaint, you have every right to do without worrying about your landlord retaliating. In some states such as California, being evicted on the grounds of discriminatory or retaliatory actions is illegal. If you suspect your landlord is trying to evict you for these reasons, take the necessary steps to report him/her.
F. Lawsuits for eviction
If your landlord serves you a notice to vacate the rental unit and you fail to do so, he/she can file an eviction lawsuit to get you to move out. In this case, your landlord is expected to serve you with a summons and complaint in order to go ahead with the eviction. Possible defenses you can use in court including showing proof that your landlord failed to follow the correct eviction procedures, or you rectified the defects in the lease and there is no reason for eviction.
Landlords have the legal right to refuse rent payments if you attempt to pay only a portion of your rent, you have been served with an eviction notice, the term of your lease runs out, or you try to make payments in any other form other than what is specified in the lease. A landlord can also choose to refuse payments in an attempt to evict you without cause as long as you are provided with a 30-60 day notice.