Question: My tenant mailed a rental check to me but I received it late. Am I allowed to enforce a late charge?

Answer: By establishing the method for making the monthly rent payment in the rental or lease agreement entered into with the tenant as handing payment to the US Postal Service postage prepaid and addressed to the landlord, the failure of the postal service to deliver the check within the grace period for payment does not cause the tenant to incur a late charge when USPS received the check during the grace period. The tenant performed their obligations as agreed with the landlord.

The rental or lease agreement sets the standard

The landlord, through a rental or lease agreement, establishes the method of delivery for payment of rent. [See RPI Form 550 and 551 §4]

When the rental or lease agreement calls for the mailing of the check, correct and timely delivery by the postal service falls on the landlord, not the tenant. The tenant fully performed their obligations by placing the check in the mail.

When a tenant mails rent at a landlord’s discretion and, through no fault of the tenant, the landlord does not receive it, the tenant is not in default in the payment of rent since the tenant’s mailing of the check fulfilled their obligations under the rental or lease agreement provision for payment of rent and the landlord bears the risk of delay or non-delivery. [Sleep EZ v. Mateo (2017) 13 CA5th 1]

Related article:

Is a tenant liable for unpaid rent when the lease requires rent to be paid by mail and the landlord does not receive payment?

Alternatives to mailed rent checks

In cases where the landlord does not receive rent due to a delay or error by the postal service, the tenant may not be penalized for a late arrival of the payment or non-payment since the tenant fulfilled their obligation by mailing the check as agreed. The landlord needs to work with the tenant to find a resolution that is fair to both.

To avoid these issues, a landlord needs to consider using alternative methods for the tenant to pay rent. Examples that provide greater convenience and reliability include:

  • online payments;
  • mobile payments;
  • providing a credit card number for the landlord to charge;
  • Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfers; and
  • money transfer services such as PayPal, Venmo and Zelle.

By negotiating the payment method to be used in the terms of the rental or lease agreement, landlords help ensure rent is paid on time and with minimal disruptions to their tenant relationships. Landlords need to ensure they have laid out the expectations in the payment of rent in the rental or lease agreement.

The extra time spent policing a forfeiture or penalty payment exceeds the effort to simply call or email the tenant and resolve the collection of the rent. Fighting over a failed delivery of a few days is a futile activity for a landlord to engage in. It’s far better to come to a mutual resolution and offer solutions to the problem than to fight with a tenant.

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