Q Our lease states that rent is due on the "last day of the month." Unfortunately, my husband does not get paid until the first of the month, at which time we do pay our rent immediately. The landlord is claiming that he "must" have it on the last day because of a mortgage due on the first, which if not paid exactly on the first, costs him a $56 late fee, a sum he is asking us to pay. Our lease details nothing about late fees or grace periods for our rent. Is there any law that provides that the landlord must give us a minimum grace period before a late fee can be charged? Are we obligated to pay the late fee on his loan?AProperty manager

Griswold replies:

While a grace period for rent payment is common, there is no legal requirement that the landlord must offer one. You signed the lease knowing that the rent was due at the end of the month and that there was no grace period.

Almost all standardized leases contain language about late charges, so the fact that your lease agreement is silent on this could make it difficult for the landlord to collect the late fee if the matter were brought before a court.

Further, the issue of what constitutes a proper late charge is widely debated, with most jurisdictions requiring that the late fee be reasonable and bear a direct correlation to the additional costs incurred by the landlord as a direct result of the late payment of rent by the tenant.

So the question isn't really whether you should pay the late charge, but rather what are the damages your landlord incurs because of your failure to comply with your rental agreement. In this case, your landlord has a $56 late fee that he is charged if he doesn't make his mortgage payment in a timely manner, so he may be able to prove that these additional costs are directly related to your late payment of rent.

While I would agree that it would be prudent for the landlord to have enough money available so that he could make the loan payment no matter when you pay your rent, that's not required. Likewise, the landlord could suggest that the income your husband receives on the first of the month should be held for the rent payment at the end of that month or that you simply pay your rent a few weeks in advance.

The lost interest earnings on those funds is much less than the $56 you are being charged for paying your rent just a few days late.

The deciding factor in my mind is that you agreed to payment terms in your lease that require the payment of the rent on the last day of the month and that there is no grace period. My advice is it would seem to be more financially efficient and less stressful for you if you could make the necessary sacrifices to get ahead on your rent.

I own a house that I rented out for the first time last year. When my tenants left at the end of their lease, the place was a mess, outside and in. Besides the pile of junk in the yard, I found a major rat problem -- about 30 loose rats that ate through foundation posts, destroyed insulation and nested everywhere. I've learned from the neighbors that the family had a male and female rat as pets and kept them in the garage. I had to hire an exterminator and a contractor. Who is responsible for the damage and filth caused by the rats? Can I use the security deposit to cover my repair costs?

Steven Kellman, a lawyer for tenants, replies:

While tenants are responsible for damage caused for use that is beyond ordinary wear and tear, you must be able to prove that they -- or their pets -- caused the damage. In this case, there was significant damage that you assume was done by rats.

As part of that assumption, you may be relying on speculation that there was a 30-member gang of rats running loose at the house. You are also relying on the neighbor's information that the tenants had male and female pet rats. If they were pets, one may also speculate that they were protected from running loose and that they were taken away when the tenants moved out.

As to the tenant's pet rats having 30 baby rats who grew up quickly, with an appetite for foundation posts and insulation, you may have a tough time proving that one.

In any event, if you feel your evidence is strong enough, you may deduct the damages from the deposit to cover the repairs and seek additional money from the tenants if the deposit will not be sufficient to pay for everything.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold and San Diego lawyers Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenants Legal Center, and James McKinley, member of the Moffitt & Associates law firm, which represents landlords. E-mail your questions to Griswold at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

© 2007 Inman News Features