What Legal Actions to Take When a Tenant Refuses to Pay Rent

As a landlord, it is quite likely that you will, at some point, encounter a stubborn tenant refusing to pay rent. Some tenants will be regularly late, others will miss the occasional month, and some will refuse to pay entirely, ignoring your calls and making excuses.

While there are extenuating circumstances to consider, at the end of the day, renting out a property is a business venture and must be dealt with impersonally and efficiently.

Giving a tenant a little leeway, like in the event of a costly family emergency, or an extension is a humane thing to do as a landlord, but what most people don’t know is that, more often than not, the rent from a property is a landlord’s only source of income.

Not all landlords, after all, are huge, impersonal conglomerates who are only in it for the profit. Most are just hardworking people who bought additional properties so they can finally take it easy. 

If a tenant has shown a consistent disregard for the rent, you have to stand your ground as a landlord and act as quickly as possible. If you’re not sure what to do, here are some steps you could take to finally get that defaulting tenant to pay up:

1. Contact them

If the tenant has not really shown a consistent disregard for the rent, it might be important to contact them first. They may be suffering a death in the family, a grievous illness in a loved one, or another type of financial fallout. 

Before taking legal action, make sure to communicate your concerns with the tenant and to keep records of this communication.

2. Send them the notice

Depending on the state, a landlord is required to submit a several-day notice before an eviction lawsuit is filed. Usually, this notice lasts about five days. In other cases, such as contractual violations of the lease (like owning pets, making unauthorized changes to the property, etc.), most states require a 10-day notice.

This notice gives the tenant a period in which to comply with their lease. If they fail to comply or come to an arrangement with the landlord, it is the legal recourse of the landlord to file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant.

3. Serve them the lawsuit

It is at this point that the landlord can give the tenant one final chance—about a week—to comply with their lease agreement, as the lawsuit (called a Summons and Complaint) can be served by a third party to the tenant before it is even filed in court. 

The tenant is now required to respond to the Summons and Complaint because if they fail to, they immediately lose the eviction. The tenant can decide to pay or leave the property in order to avoid the eviction lawsuit being filed in court.

4. File the lawsuit in court

If they absolutely refuse to comply with their lease, it is now time to file the lawsuit in a court. Regardless of whichever party wins or loses, an eviction record will be created in the tenant’s name, which can result in denial of housing from tenant screening companies.

From here, it is up to the court to decide whether or not the tenant will be evicted from the premises. 


Evicting a defaulting tenant is not an easy process for either side, but it does happen. Sometimes, it may take legal action to solve the problem. As a landlord, it is important to be firm with the lease requirements, especially with tenants who have shown a history of late payments or missing rent. 

One essential key is to be communicative with them and to keep records of all communications, in the event of legal recourse being necessary.

For more information on real estate, eviction laws, and defaulting tenants in Jacksonville, we at Quest Real Estate, LLC, are happy to help with your concerns. Send us a message if you need legal assistance!