A. The tenant's duty to pay rent
In a landlord-tenant relationship, the tenant's main responsibility is to pay rent. The tenant must pay the landlord the amount of rent agreed, and the rent must be paid at the time and place agreed. If the tenant and the landlord have not agreed on a time and place, the law says that the rent is due on the first day of the rental period (a week or a month), and it is payable at the rental residence. If the rental period is longer than one month (for example, a one year lease), and the rent is paid monthly, rent is due on the first day of the month unless the tenant and the landlord have agreed on a different day.
The lease may require that the rent be paid by cash, check or money order. The best way to pay rent is by check. Money orders are time-consuming and expensive to trace. If rent is paid with cash, then a receipt is very important.
If the tenant is having trouble paying the rent, but the tenant wants to stay in the rental unit, the tenant must talk to the landlord. It is possible to modify a rental agreement, but the tenant can't expect the landlord to be willing to agree to a change if he/she doesn't know the tenant’s problem.
It may also be possible to make agreements with the landlord on the way to pay rent. For example, if the tenant gets a government check each month on the third of the month, the tenant will probably not want to have the rent due on the first of the month. If the tenant is having financial problems, it might be possible to arrange to pay part of the rent on the first of the month and the rest on the fifteenth. If a landlord knows the tenant is trying to pay the rent, it is less likely that the landlord will immediately move to evict the tenant when the rent is a little behind.
B. Rent vs. deposits or damages
Because paying rent is the tenant's most important duty, the law gives it certain protections. Rent may not be used by the landlord for deposits or to pay for damages, unless the tenant agrees to this kind of use in a written rental agreement. The tenant should check the lease or rental agreement to see whether it contains such a provision.
If the tenant has caused some damage to the property, the landlord may allocate a portion of the rent to cover the damages IF the lease specifically allows such an allocation. If the landlord then sues the tenant for eviction, and if the landlord wins, the tenant can still stay in the rental unit. The court will issue a ‘conditional writ’ which gives the tenant three days to pay the amount of unpaid rent. If the tenant pays within the three days, then the tenant can keep possession of the rental unit.
C. Agreements where the tenant's right to a dwelling is tied to a job.
Sometimes, a landlord will rent to a tenant in exchange for the tenant agreeing to manage the property or make repairs around the property. In other situations, an employer may give an employee a place to live as part of working for the employer. If the agreement is that the housing is directly tied to the job and the tenant gets fired or laid off, the housing can be lost at the same time. If the agreement connecting the job to the housing is in writing, the tenant will not have the rights provided by the Owner-Resident Relations Act. The landlord can use a quicker legal action called Forcible Entry and Detainer to evict the employee. If the job-housing connection is not spelled out in writing, the employer/landlord must give the tenant the notices and recognize the rights required by the Owner-Resident Relations Act.
D. When the tenant doesn’t pay the rent
If the tenant does not pay the full rent on time, the landlord may evict the tenant. Eviction must be done through a court action. The landlord does not have the right simply to throw a tenant out of the apartment without going to court first. Until a judge orders the tenant to move out, the tenant may stay in the rental dwelling and the landlord cannot force the tenant to leave or cut off necessary utilities (see Chapter 9,"Lock-outs").
Before a landlord can go to court to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent, the landlord must give the tenant a 3 day notice of non-payment. If the tenant does not pay the rent (including late charges if the rental agreement provides for late charges) within three days of receiving the notice, the tenant loses the right to stay and may be evicted. If the tenant pays the rent within the three day period, the tenancy is reinstated and the landlord may not try to evict the tenant for non-payment of rent.
The law also requires that the landlord either deliver the notice to the tenant, mail it to the tenant, or "post" it. Unfortunately, even with these requirements, a tenant may sometimes not find out about the notice during the three day period. For example, the notice may be given to someone who is living with the tenant. Mail may arrive late. And "posting" only requires that the notice be taped to the tenant’s door or placed in a fixture or receptacle designed for notices or mail (like a tenant's "box" at the apartment entrance or a covered bulletin board). After the three days pass, there is not much the tenant can do to avoid going to court to defend the himself in an eviction action. If the tenant did not properly receive the notice, that can act as a defense in the eviction action.
Sometimes, a tenant will try to pay the rent during this three day period, but the landlord won't accept it. If the tenant finds him/herself in this situation, make a second offer of the rent in the presence of witnesses. The tenant can ask the witnesses to testify in court. If the tenant can show the judge that s/he tried to pay but the landlord refused the payment, the tenant should be able to win the eviction case. The only exception to this is if the landlord improperly used the rent for a deposit or for damages.
If the tenant faces an eviction action for non-payment of rent, the tenant will owe the rent for each day the tenant stays in the rental unit. The court will enter a judgment for the amount of rent due through the move-out day. The day set by the court for moving out will be three to seven days from the court hearing. If the tenant does not move out by the day ordered by the court, the landlord can take the order to the sheriff who can force the tenant to move out and change the locks. This court order is called a Writ of Restitution.
E. Keeping records
It is very important for the tenant to receive and keep all rent receipts. If the tenant pays by check, mark on the check the month for which the rent is being paid before giving the check to the landlord. Keep the canceled check when it comes back with the bank statement. The tenant should get a receipt from the landlord when paying by check or money order just like if the tenant pays cash, but at least the canceled check will be evidence of payment if the tenant doesn't get a receipt. Money order receipt forms are not as good evidence of payment as are canceled checks. In order to prove that a landlord received and cashed a money order, the tenant will have to order the records from the money order company, pay a fee (about $15-35) and wait several weeks.
The tenant and landlord should keep complete records of rent payments. They may be necessary at some point as proof about what rent was paid or not paid.
F. Rent increases
If the tenant has a written lease covering a specified period of time (for example, a 6 month or a year lease), the landlord may not raise the rent during that period. If a fixed term lease is for more than a month, and the lease automatically renews itself, the landlord must give the tenant notice of a rent increase at least thirty days before the current lease expires.
If the lease allows the tenant to renew by giving notice, the landlord must also give the tenant thirty days notice of a rent increase on the new lease. If the lease runs out, the landlord cannot raise the rent until s/he gives the tenant 30 days notice or unless a new lease is signed.
Under a month-to-month rental agreement, a landlord must give thirty days written notice before the increase in rent can be effective. If a rental agreement is week-to-week, the landlord must give seven days notice before the beginning of the week that the rental increase is to be effective.
All written notices of a rent increase must either be hand delivered to the tenant or mailed to the tenant. Posting the rental increase at the apartment is not enough.