Landlord-tenant laws differ a great deal from state to state, but most leases cover common points, including the amount of rent, when it’s due, and late fees if rent is not paid on time. Your lease is a contract with your landlord, and when each of you sign it, you're bound by its terms. If you violate your lease—for example, by not paying rent—your landlord will have legal grounds to end your tenancy and begin eviction proceedings.
Your Rent Is Due on the Due Date
The due date in your lease is the date when you're contractually obligated to pay your rent, typically the first of the month. Under the laws in some states, if the rent due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the tenant has until the next business day to pay rent. But unless it’s required under your state law, or is spelled out in your lease, your rent is due on or by the due date. If you fail to pay rent on time, your landlord may charge a late fee—as long as this fee is spelled out in your lease and complies with any state restrictions on late fees.
Your State May Limit Late Fees
A few states set restrictions on late fees, such as the maximum dollar amount and whether landlords must wait a set number of days (that is, give a grace period, discussed below) before charging late fees.
State law in Iowa, for example, late fees vary depending upon the amount of rent. For rents of $700 per month or less, the limit is $12 per day, or a total amount of $60 per month; for rents exceeding $700 per month, the late fee maximum is $20 per day or a total amount of $100 per month. Most states, however, do not put a dollar limit on late fees, although general legal principles restrict landlords from charging unreasonably high late rent fees, such as 10% of the rent.
You Probably Won’t Have a Grace Period
Unless it’s covered in your lease or required by state law, you are not automatically entitled to a grace period before your landlord may charge you a late fee or terminate your tenancy for nonpayment of rent. If your rent is due on the first, that is when you must pay it. The states that provide a mandatory grace period before rent is considered late (triggering a late fee and/or a termination notice) are an exception. Landlords in New Jersey, for example must wait five days before charging a late fee, but only when the premises are rented by specified elderly or low-income tenants. Texas landlords must include late fee provisions in the lease and cannot charge a late fee until the tenant is one day late paying the rent. Check your state law, because these vary widely on the when it comes to late fees. For details on your state law, see Nolo.com's article: State-by-State Basic Rent Rules.
You May Risk Eviction
If you are late paying rent, most states allow landlords to immediately send you a termination notice for nonpayment of rent, giving you a few days (the number is usually specified by state law) to pay your rent or risk an eviction lawsuit. States vary as to how soon landlords may send you a termination notice for nonpayment of rent—it may be immediately (the day after you miss the rent due date) or it may be a few days after the rent due date. State laws also vary as to how the landlord must serve a rent nonpayment notice, and how many days the landlord must give you to pay the rent before you face a termination of your tenancy. In California, for example, a landlord may give a tenant a nonpayment of rent notice as soon as the rent is late, and the notice must give the tenant three days to pay rent or move before the landlord can file for eviction.
A Landlord-Tenant Lawyer Can Help
State laws vary widely when it comes to rent, late fees, termination of rent, and lease requirements. Plus, the facts of each case are unique—for example, state rent and termination rules sometimes provide exceptions for victims of domestic violence. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For a detailed explanation of landlord-tenant law in your state, including how it applies to your situation, consult an experienced real estate lawyer.