It is not uncommon for tenants to fall behind from time-to-time in paying rent. It is also quite normal for tenants to be a little late from time-to-time in paying rent. But occasionally a tenant falls so far behind that the end of the landlord-tenant relationship becomes inevitable.
There are three approaches tenants tend to take when confronted with this scenario, only one of which is correct. The first approach and most wrong of the three is to invent reasons for having not paid the rent, including concocting false allegations about the condition of the premises. Some tenants think that by claiming there is a leak somewhere or mold in the bathroom that they have somehow successfully defended themselves against a claim of non-payment of rent. This is about as wrong as it gets. Not only will this approach fail to serve as a defense, but it will also push the landlord into a position where he or she feels compelled to evict the tenant just to be exonerated of the tenant’s false claims. Never raise a false defense.
The second approach tenants tend to take, which is equally wrong, is threatening to bring a false and frivolous lawsuit against the landlord for imaginary injuries or damages, or threatening to report some issue to the town. Threats of this kind are dangerous to the tenant for many reasons. If a tenant goes through with his or her threats and files a frivolous lawsuit falsely alleging damages, the tenant will likely be required to file an insurance claim. Filing a false insurance claim is a serious criminal offense that can land a person behind bars. Making threats also serves the purpose of forcing the landlord into a position where he or she feels the necessity either to act decisively in defense, or at the very least to get rid of the tenant, by vigorously pursuing the eviction. Never threaten the landlord.
The third approach, and the only correct one, is to be honest with the landlord and communicate civilly with him or her. When a tenant explains to the landlord that he or she is having financial problems and cannot afford the rent, but wants to work out the surrender of the premises, i.e., moving out and giving back the keys, the landlord will almost always work with the tenant. It is very rare that a landlord will pursue the eviction of a tenant who is honest and willing to move out because he or she cannot afford the rent. Being honest and communicating with the landlord and trying to resolve a tough situation in a civil manner will usually result in a positive outcome for all parties. Always be honest and communicate with the landlord.
In our practice of landlord-tenant law we have seen these three scenarios played out countless times; and the results are the same almost every time. For the tenant who raises false defenses, being evicted by the landlord and leaving the landlord-tenant relationship on bad terms is almost always a certainty. For the tenant who threatens the landlord with frivolous claims or threats to report the landlord to the town, the same result is often found, except that where the tenant actually files a false insurance claim, the tenant may also find him or herself facing criminal charges. But the tenant who is honest and admits to having financial problems and who communicates with the landlord civilly, the result is usually quite different. The honest tenant will often have the opportunity to move out on favorable terms, leaving a landlord who respects the tenant’s honesty and is agreeable to forgiving past-due rent.