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Should I Charge My Tenants a Late Fee?

Two years ago, I bought a five-family building, and I have been managing it myself. My tenants seem to have a different idea than I do about what it means for rent to be due on a specific day. And recently, one of my tenants said they would pay me "next week," but he still hadn't paid me a dime three months later when I was finally able to evict him. Do you think I should use late fees to encourage my tenants to pay on time? -- Ike, Chicopee
You can try a late fee, but only if it is spelled out in your written lease agreement, and even then, you cannot collect the fee unless the tenant is 30 days late with the rent. (See Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186 § 15B(1)(c).  See also our "Books About MA Law" section for several titles with information about late fees and how they work.
Regardless of whether you decide to use a late fee, I would suggest you adopt a different approach with your tenants. As you discovered, by the time you follow all of the legal requirements of an eviction (14 Day Notice to Quit, service of summons and complaint, motions, discovery, trial, entry of judgment, appeal, execution, etc.) months may have passed, often with the tenant paying nothing and showing little regard for your property.
For this reason, many landlords serve a 14 Day Notice to Quit (the document that starts the eviction process) 24 hours after the date and time that the rent is due, every time, with no exceptions. Only time will tell which of your tenants are good and honest, but those who actually intend to pay the rent will understand that you are simply protecting your rights, especially if you discuss your policy with them when their tenancies begin. And you may still accept their rent if they offer it to you (thus, "reviving" the tenancy). For those who are unable or unwilling to pay the rent, it is crucial to start the eviction process as soon as possible, because some folks, no matter what they tell you, have no intention of paying and are counting on your inaction to add weeks or months to the time it will take you to evict them. (Submitted by the Editor)

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