Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Rent?

logo by Editorial Staff | Updated on July 27th, 2022

It is reasonable to be concerned about what will happen if you have skipped rent many times. One often asked issue is if you may go to jail for not paying. Can you go to prison for failing to pay your rent?

You cannot go to jail for failing to pay your rent. However, the landlord might take your wages for overdue rent. They might even launch a legal complaint seeking your eviction to reclaim custody of his property. Another alternative for the landlord is to seek monetary judgments.

An eviction notice taped to a door.

A hundred years ago, you might go to prison for not paying your rent in the United States. But, on the other hand, nonpayment of rent is now between people and is not regarded as a criminal act.

Read on to find out what happens if you don’t pay your rent and how long you may go without paying.

Can You Go to Jail if You Don’t Pay Your Rent?

You cannot go to jail for failing to pay your rent. However, the landlord might take your wages for overdue rent. They might even launch a legal complaint seeking your eviction to reclaim custody of his property.

Although not paying rent will not land you in jail in the United States or most other nations, it may result in legal action. However, suppose you have legitimate reasons for not being able to pay your rent. In that case, you can agree with your landlord, giving a payment alternative without going to court.

If your landlord is unwilling to cooperate, they may sue you for a civil infraction. Your landlord may also seek your eviction. Amid the COVID-19 epidemic, some states have established municipal legislation that has halted evictions. However, if you live in a state where no eviction holds, you have no choice except to vacate the premises.

Be aware that you can go to jail for other charges, such as physically assaulting the landlord during an argument over your nonpayment. This conduct would be considered assault and violence, both felonies or criminal offenses. In addition, writing bouncing checks in bad faith is a crime in most U.S. states.

What Happens If You Can Not Pay Your Rent?

When you sign a 12-month lease, you are obligated to pay the whole amount of rent for the entire year. If your rent is $1,000 each month, that’s $12,000. The landlord agrees to let you pay off the loan every month. This is a different way of looking at a rental lease…it has now become a contract of a debt obligation.

If you do not pay your rent on time, your landlord may evict you. The catch is that if you are evicted, you may still be liable for any outstanding rent. This result is determined by the landlord’s ability to rent the property to someone else. In the legal world, this is known as harm mitigation.

Whether you owe money or not, your name will almost certainly be added to the rental property bad list. If your name appears on this list, other landlords may refuse to rent to you or may ask for a higher security deposit.

If you are unable to pay your rent, your landlord may take the following actions:

  • Make a payment plan.
  • Rent should be reduced.
  • Choose between wage or property garnishment.
  • Obtain an eviction notice from the court.
  • You are being sued for a civil infraction.
  • Remove you from the premises.

However, they cannot imprison you for failing to pay your rent.

Other implications of failing to pay rent include:

  • You will have a weak or negative credit rating. In addition, if you are reported, your credit cards may be placed on hold.
  • Your landlord may report you or include your name on a registry of delinquent renters, and landlords may prohibit you for many years unless the government passes a federal law granting you a reprieve.
  • Banks will not lend to you because of your bad credit rating.
  • Your overdue rent would be revealed by a background check. This record may have an impact on your reputation in your town.
  • The landlord might garnish your salary.
  • Your landlord has the authority to evict you. As previously stated, they have the authority to remove you after adequate notice.

What You Should Know About Tenancy Termination

When ending a tenancy, every state requires landlords to follow particular protocols, and state regulations addressing the time and necessary substance of termination notices—often referred to as “quit” or “pay rent or quit”—vary widely. Therefore, you should consult your state’s law on termination for nonpayment of rent for information on:

  • When landlords have the authority to send a pay rent or quit notice. While most jurisdictions allow landlords to send the notice the first day the rent is late, a few states require the landlord to wait a specific number of days before sending the notice (effectively giving you a grace period).
  • What the notification must include. Some regulations specify what must be included in the notice, such as the amount of rent owed, the landlord’s contact information, and the deadline for either paying rent or moving out.
  • How landlords must provide renters with notice. Oral notification is never legally binding. Depending on the legislation, landlords must physically serve the notice on the renters, mail it, or post it at the rental property.
  • When you must pay your rent before the landlord may start an eviction case. Before initiating an eviction action, landlords are frequently required by state law to provide tenants the option to pay the unpaid rent. Landlords will issue a notice to pay rent or vacate in this case. (The notice may allow the renter to “cure,” which is another way of saying pay rent.) The renters have two options: pay the rent (cure) or move out (leave) before the notice’s deadline (usually three to ten days after receipt). However, a few states are harsh on delinquent renters and do not compel landlords to offer tenants a chance to pay up. Instead, if you fail to pay rent on time even once, the landlord can demand that you leave with an “unconditional quit” notice.
  • What if you are late with your rent more than once? In many places, landlords can issue you an unconditional quit notice if you’re late with the rent for the second or third time in a specific number of months—they don’t have to allow you a few days to pay.

When you receive a notice to pay rent or vacate, thoroughly read it and consider your choices. Pay the rent as soon as possible, or contact your landlord to see if you can work out a payment plan or seek an extension. If you can agree, put it in writing.

If you receive an unconditional quit notice or know you won’t be able to pay your rent, attempt to leave before the deadline. Even if you leave, your landlord is still entitled to the rent and late fines you owe.

Your landlord may take what you owe from your security deposit and, if the deposit is insufficient, sue you for the balance. However, moving out willingly is better than getting evicted, and your landlord may decide that suing you is not worth the effort.

If, on the other hand, your landlord is compelled to evict you, you may face an eviction judgment and a judgment for rent, late fees, attorneys’ fees, and court expenses.

What you need to know about Eviction

Without a court order, your landlord cannot evict you—that is, physically remove you and your belongings out of the property. To get a court order, your landlord must follow all termination and eviction litigation processes and establish at trial that you did something illegal (such as not paying the rent) that warrants eviction. You will be allowed to provide a defense—a reason why you should not be evicted—to the court if you have one.

What Should You Do If You Can’t Pay Your Rent?

If you are unable to pay your rent, you can take the following steps:

1. Understand the Rental Laws in Your State

Determine whether eviction safeguards exist in your state or nation. Additionally, listen to and watch current news to learn about changes to existing legislation. Knowing the current regulations governing your rights as a renter might help you plan your future steps considerably.

Debtor’s prisons are illegal in the United States. So don’t be alarmed if your landlord threatens you with incarceration. Although they can sue you in civil court, you will not be imprisoned.

2. Get in touch with your landlord and devise a payment plan.

If you cannot pay your following rent, act quickly and contact your landlord. Present them with documentation or proof that you will be unable to make next month’s rent payment.

One of these documents is your employer’s assurance that you can ultimately return to work. If you are jobless, they will additionally want proof of this. So be truthful and behave in good faith. A good landlord would value your honesty and sincerity.

Your demeanor would persuade them you do not want to flee or avoid accountability.

Letting them realize that you do not have the resources to pay them the next month can help avoid future civil lawsuits.

Furthermore, you may devise a payment plan with them by giving an accepted payment alternative. The best you can do is get them to sign a rental-deferment agreement. Any agreement you make with your landlord should be in writing and signed by both.

Before signing, you should also read and comprehend the document’s contents. When in doubt, ask your landlord questions and clarify unclear remarks. If you want it to be more legally binding, get it notarized by a notary public.

3. Request a Rent Reduction for the Months You Are Unemployed.

You may ask for a lower rent during your time off from work. If your landlord disagrees, you might try to negotiate a reduced rent for a month or three months. After that, you might tell them you will make the difference when you are financially solid.

4. Look for Government Assistance

You might inquire with your local or national government to see whether they give eviction safeguards or financial aid to those in similar situations. For example, during the COVID-19 outbreak, certain states have eviction protections in place.

You can find out if your state is one of them by contacting your local government. Also, find out if you may get a loan or financial aid from the United States Treasury Department or the Housing and Urban Development office.

Inquire with your state about where you may access federal funding or federal financial programs. For example, some states have Rental Assistance Programs. You only need to contact your local government.

If the CARES Act covers you, you are protected against eviction during a pandemic. Here is a list of the states in the United States that are covered under the CARES 

5. Seek the Help of Your Bank

If Step 4 does not work out, you might go to your bank. The bank may issue you a loan if you are a good-standing depositor. Of course, you must send any relevant paperwork they want from you. Don’t lie about the status of your money since the bank will quickly discover the truth. On the other hand, if you are truthful, the bank may comprehend your situation.

6. Speak with a Lawyer

If none of the above approaches work, you might consult a lawyer to determine the next legal move. But, again, superb, low-cost lawyers can assist you with your challenge.

Also, ensure you have all your cards face up on the table. Your case may be jeopardized if you do not provide them with all the information.

We’ve addressed the topic, “Can you go to jail for failing to pay your rent?” First, look at how long you can go without paying your rent and the penalties for not paying your rent.

How Long Can You Avoid Paying Rent?

You have at least two months before the court issues an eviction notice if you do not pay your rent. Eviction notifications might take two to three months to process.

After it has been processed, the court will issue an eviction notice after 30 days of non-payment. However, the eviction notice only gives you three to 10 days to depart the property.

If you have the financial means to pay, don’t wait for the eviction notice because this negative financial record will remain on your credit report for at least seven years. In addition, this unfavorable report may impact your future applications for bank loans or housing.

What to Do If Your Landlord Files a Lawsuit Against You

If your landlord decides to take you to court, you can pay the fine, and the matter will be closed. However, if the problem grows due to your lack of cash, you need to call a lawyer for assistance because it is already a legal matter.

Avoid unpaid rentals as much as possible because you will have to pay them again in the future. You’d also need a lot of money at that point. So, if your landlord allows, attempt to pay in increments or installments for the time being. If the court directs you to pay, you have no choice but to comply with the court’s ruling.

You don’t want your creditors to bar you from your home for the rest of your life because you didn’t pay your rent. But unfortunately, it would also take years to clean up your terrible credit history.

What to Do If You Get a Notice of Eviction

  1. If you pay the sum owed within ten days of receiving the eviction notice, they will not be able to remove you.
  2. Engage in a heart-to-heart conversation with the landlord and communicate your willingness to pay up; you do not have the cash. Please make an effort to appeal to his compassionate side. When they learn about situations comparable to yours, people’s attitudes soften. Request that the eviction notice is withdrawn from the court.
  3. Find out whether your state has any eviction protection legislation. Use it to avoid eviction. Determine if the landlord complies with federal requirements before going to court to remove you.
  4. Consult your lawyer for advice on how to avoid eviction. They are the most knowledgeable about the legal procedures you may take to halt the process. However, if your lawyer cannot stop the procedure, you must follow the court’s directions.
  5. Report to court and persuade the judge that you have no other options in your current condition and cannot continue to live on the streets. The judge may feel sympathy for you.
  6. Look for alternate lodging options ahead of time. But don’t leave until a sheriff arrives and tells you to. Who can say? During the waiting time, the eviction legislation might be changed.

What can’t the landlord do if the rent isn’t paid?

  • In such a case, the owner may be tempted to take matters into his own hands, but this should never be done under any circumstances. Instead, the owner must resolve the issues with the help of an attorney.
  • We strongly advise the owner to observe the following guidelines at all times:
  • The rental house’s supply should not be curtailed. And it is that depriving a delinquent renter of basic amenities such as electricity, water, or gas might cause demand and perhaps a complaint.
  • You should not go to the police to report a crime since neglecting to pay rent violates the contract, not a criminal. Because it violates the contract, it must be pursued civilly rather than criminally.
  • Threatening or insulting the renter is pointless since a crime is being committed, and this behavior will not assist the landlord claim non-payment of the lease.
  • The home should not be forced: even if the renter is not there, the owner cannot force the lock since it is a breaking offense.
  • If the legal procedure has already begun, do not accept money from the delinquent renter: if the delinquent tenant wishes to pay, contact the owner’s lawyer.

Suggestions for Avoiding Non-Payment of Rent

Put money aside for rainy days.

Knowing how to save emergency funds while generating a steady income would be handy during rainy days. This fund must exist independently of your savings.

Make it a point to save a particular amount of your monthly salary. For example, try putting aside as little as $200 to $500 every month. You may also set money away every day or week in aren’t box’ to ensure that your payment is ready within a month.

Make your home a top priority.

Your residence is necessary for you to live correctly. So when it comes to paying your monthly payments, make it your priority (apart from eating).

Obtain Insurance

Secure insurance that will assist you if you cannot pay your rent.


You will not go to jail for failing to pay your rent. However, you can be evicted and sued in civil court.

The landlord may also choose wage garnishment or gain.

People who couldn’t pay their rent went to jail and worked hard to pay off their debts 100 years ago. This is now considered a kind of discrimination against the poor. As a result, numerous nations, notably the United States, have removed criminal responsibility in their jurisdictions.

If you have the financial resources, don’t let this situation become an eviction notice. Instead, try to prevent it as much as possible since, as previously said, receiving an eviction notice will have various unpleasant consequences.


Editorial Staff

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