5 Steps Landlords Can Take Against Non-Paying Tenants

Story Highlights
  • 1. Clear Lease Agreement
  • 2. Communication
  • 3. Late Fees
  • 4. Eviction Process
  • 5. Legal Action

Being a landlord can be a rewarding venture, but it also comes with its fair share of challenges. One of the most frustrating issues that landlords often face is dealing with non-paying tenants. When tenants fail to pay rent on time or consistently skip payments, it can have a significant impact on a landlord’s finances and property management.

However, there are steps that landlords can take to address this issue and protect their interests. In this article, we will discuss five crucial steps that landlords can take against non-paying tenants.

1. Clear Lease Agreement

The first and most essential step in preventing and addressing non-paying tenants is to have a clear and comprehensive lease agreement. Your lease agreement should outline all the terms and conditions, including the rent amount, due date, late fees, and consequences for non-payment. Make sure that your tenants fully understand the lease terms before signing it. By having a well-drafted lease agreement, you establish a legal framework that can be used to hold tenants accountable for their financial obligations.

South African landlords should ensure that their lease agreements comply with the Rental Housing Act of 1999. This law governs the relationship between landlords and tenants, and it’s essential to align your lease agreement with its provisions.           

2. Communication

Effective communication is key when dealing with non-paying tenants. As soon as you notice a missed payment, reach out to your tenant to discuss the issue. It’s possible that they may have faced a financial setback or simply forgot to make the payment. Be understanding and open to working out a solution. In many cases, a simple reminder can prompt tenants to make the overdue payment.

If the issue persists, consider sending a formal written notice regarding the unpaid rent and the consequences of non-payment, as outlined in your lease agreement. Keep a record of all communication, including emails and letters, as this documentation can be valuable if legal action becomes necessary.

It’s worth noting that in South Africa, specific notice periods and formats may be required. For example, written notices may need to be sent via registered mail or hand-delivered, depending on local regulations. Ensure you follow the correct procedure by conferring with real estate and/or legal experts.

3. Late Fees

Including late fees in your lease agreement can provide an incentive for tenants to pay on time. Ensure that your lease clearly defines the amount of the late fee, the grace period, and when it will be applied. By enforcing late fees consistently, you encourage tenants to prioritize rent payments.

South African law permits landlords to charge reasonable late fees. However, these fees must be explicitly stated in the lease agreement, and the landlord should adhere to any limits imposed by the law.

4. Eviction Process

If communication and late fees fail to resolve the issue, you may need to begin the eviction process. The exact steps and timelines for eviction vary by location, so be sure to consult with a legal professional or local housing authority to ensure you follow the correct procedures.

The eviction process in South Africa is governed by the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (PIE Act) and the Rental Housing Act. These laws provide guidelines for serving eviction notices, applying to the courts, and engaging law enforcement. It’s essential to consult with a South African attorney well-versed in these regulations to ensure compliance.

Generally, the process includes serving an eviction notice, filing an eviction lawsuit if necessary, and working with law enforcement to remove the tenant if they refuse to vacate the property. Eviction is a last resort, but it is a legal option for landlords to regain possession of their property.

5. Legal Action

If all else fails, you may need to take legal action to recover the unpaid rent and associated costs. This can include filing a lawsuit in small claims court or civil court, depending on the amount owed. Consult with an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law to guide you through the legal process. Legal action should be considered carefully, as it can be time-consuming and costly.

Additional Considerations

Tenant Screening: Before a tenant even moves in, it’s crucial to conduct thorough tenant screening. A robust screening process can help identify potential red flags, such as prior rental payment issues, eviction history, or credit problems. Screening applicants can significantly reduce the chances of renting to tenants who are likely to become non-payers.

Payment Options: Offering multiple payment methods and schedules can make it more convenient for tenants to pay their rent on time. Consider accepting online payments, direct deposits, or setting up automatic withdrawals. Providing options that align with your tenants’ preferences can reduce the likelihood of late payments.

Mediation and Arbitration: In some cases, disputes between landlords and tenants can be resolved through mediation or arbitration instead of pursuing a full-fledged eviction. Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps both parties come to an agreement. Arbitration is a legally binding process where an arbitrator makes a decision. These methods can be faster and less costly than going to court, so consider them as alternatives to resolve conflicts.

Understand Local Laws: Landlord-tenant laws can vary significantly from one location to another. It’s essential to be familiar with the specific laws and regulations in your area, as they can greatly impact your rights and obligations as a landlord. Ignorance of the law is not a valid defence in legal disputes, so consult with a legal professional or a local housing authority to ensure you comply.

Document Everything: Proper record-keeping is critical in landlord-tenant relationships, especially when dealing with non-paying tenants. Document all interactions, including communication, late payments, and any violations of the lease agreement. This documentation can be invaluable if legal action becomes necessary and will support your case in court.

Security Deposit Management: Be sure to understand and comply with local laws regarding the handling of security deposits. Security deposits can be used to cover unpaid rent or damages, but you must follow the appropriate procedures to account for and return these deposits at the end of the lease.

Seek Legal Advice: When dealing with non-paying tenants or other challenging situations, it’s wise to consult with an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law. They can provide guidance, review your lease agreement, and represent your interests in court if needed.


Dealing with non-paying tenants can be a challenging and frustrating aspect of being a landlord. However, by taking proactive steps and following a structured approach, you can protect your investment and encourage tenants to meet their financial obligations. Start with a clear lease agreement, maintain open communication, enforce late fees, and be prepared to take legal action if necessary. While it’s important to be understanding and flexible, it’s equally important to protect your rights as a landlord and ensure your property remains a profitable venture.

NOTE: This article was originally published on June 22, 2021, but has been updated on January 22, 2024, to reflect new information and best practices.

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