Landlord-tenant laws differ a great deal from state to state, but most leases cover common points: Your lease should state that rent is due by a certain date, late fees become payable a few days after the due date, and if you don't pay your rent, your landlord can evict you. Your lease is a contract with your landlord, and when each of you sign it, you're bound by its terms.
Your Rent Is Due on the Due Date
The due date in your lease is the date on which you're contractually obligated pay your rent each month. But sometimes things happen, and your landlord - and most state laws - agree that there shouldn't be any dire penalties if you're a little bit late. This is where your grace period comes in; it's a small window of time after your due date during which you can pay your landlord without incurring a late fee.
How Long Is the Grace Period?
Some states have laws that determine how long a grace period your landlord must give you. For example, in New Jersey, it's five days, but in Texas, you only have one day. Other states, such as Ohio, have no statutory grace periods at all. If you're concerned about yours is, check your lease. The late fee usually applies the day after your grace period expires. If you have a five-day grace period, the late fee becomes payable on the sixth day.
Late Fees Should Be Reasonable
Unfortunately, even among states that provide for statutory grace periods, there's not always an exact formula for calculating how much the late fee should be. Sometimes your lease will spell it out. It might be a one-time charge of $50, or $5 per day after your grace period expires. If your lease doesn't mention an exact fee, some state laws simply say that it must be "reasonable," which typically means that it's enough to cover any costs your landlord incurs because you were late.
You May Risk Eviction
If you incur a late fee, it means that you didn't pay your rent before your grace period expired, so you're technically in default of your lease contract. Depending on the goodwill of your landlord, he might simply accept the rent and the late fee, or he may move to evict you. Some states will not allow your landlord to evict you for late fees alone - that is, if you're not also behind with your rent - if such a provision isn't written in your lease.
A Real Estate Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding rentals and leases is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a real estate lawyer.