My boyfriend’s tenant did something weird this month.  Instead of mailing the rent check in advance of the first, she opted to deliver it in person.  That’s not the weird part, she’s done that before.  The weird part is that she delivered it to the wrong house.  This is her fifteenth month in that property, and we haven’t moved our house during that entire time, so I have no idea why she goofed it up.  But when my boyfriend told me she had paid rent to the wrong place, we had to decide how to fix it quickly, before it became a much bigger problem.

In this case, the tenant called and said she dropped off the check, and she just wanted to make sure we received it.  We checked the mailbox, but it wasn’t there.  She said she dropped it off at a house with a block wall in front and a Nissan SUV in the driveway.  Neither of those things describe our house.  She said “Oh, I thought you might have changed the wall in front of your house.”  (Facepalm.)  She has our address, of course.  She’s dropped off the check here before.  She was just careless and made a silly mistake.  Or worse: she was lying and doesn’t have the money to pay the rent.

It Doesn’t Matter Whether the Tenant is Lying or Telling the Truth; What Matters is How the Problem Will Be Fixed

In my experience as a landlord, I’ve had plenty of tenants tell me over the years that the check got “lost in the mail” or any number of other excuses.  I used to focus more on whether I believed them or not, and would decide how to proceed accordingly.  After many years of experience, however, my strategy evolved somewhat.  It doesn’t matter so much whether the tenant is telling the truth.  What matters is how the problem is going to get fixed.

Who should fix the problem?  Well, if the problem can be fixed in less than 5 minutes by you, then it’s usually easier to just fix it yourself.  For example, if the tenant said she dropped it in the mailbox but she missed and the check went into the bushes somewhere, then it’s probably worth taking a few minutes to check the bushes to see if you can find it.  But if you’ve given it five minutes worth of work on your end, and you’re still not able to resolve the issue, then the burden should really be on the tenant to fix it.

In this case, consistent with the 5-minute rule, Boyfriend went over to that neighbor’s house to try to get the check.  Unfortunately, Neighbor’s mailbox is a slot that deposits the mail inside her garage, so he had no way to check it himself.  This neighbor also has a locked gate in the block wall, and no doorbell or any way to alert the person inside the house that someone is outside.  (Lame, I know, but also not our problem.)

What Do You Do If Your Tenant Paid Rent to the Wrong Place?  Make Them Fix It.

People make mistakes from time to time.  It’s understandable,  and I do it, too.  But if the tenant makes a mistake that you’ve spent more than 5 minutes trying to fix, and you’re trying to prevent tenants from making the same mistake again, the best thing to do is to make sure the burden of fixing their mistake falls on them, not you.

Boyfriend wanted to continue trying to solve the problem himself.  He asked me what he should do to get the neighbor’s attention.  I said he should make this the tenant’s problem.  The tenant could try to get the neighbor’s attention, and if that failed, she could give Boyfriend a new rent check.  She could then either stop payment on the old check or drop a note in the neighbor’s mailbox telling her about the mistake and ask her to return the old check to the tenant.

Boyfriend really wanted to try to fix it himself.  He absolutely hates having to confront his tenants about anything, so he usually tries to just jump through hoops on his own instead of handling it like a normal business transaction.  But I explained to him that if he took on the burden of fixing it himself, he might spend hours trying to get Neighbor’s attention, or he might have to leave her a note and wait for a response, and if Neighbor is on vacation, he might not get the rent check for a week or more.  Even worse, what if Neighbor returned from vacation, only to report that there was no rent check in her mailbox?  Then you have to determine whether the tenant was lying about it, or whether Neighbor is lying and trying to steal the check.

Boyfriend needed to put the burden on the tenant to fix it, since she put them both in this weird position.  Thank goodness, he took my advice this time.  He told the tenant that he tried to get the check but that the woman’s mailbox didn’t allow him to do that.  He said that she needed to figure something out to get him the rent on time.

The tenant drove back to our neighborhood (we’re only 10-15 minutes away) and handled it.  She couldn’t get a hold of the Neighbor where she dropped off the check, so she tried the neighbors on either side.  Luckily, one of the other neighbors had the key to Neighbor’s garage, and was able to let her in so she could get the check back.  She happily delivered the check about 20 minutes later, and apologized for the inconvenience.  I’m sure she won’t make the same mistake again.

Have you ever had to deal with a tenant who said they paid the rent, but it was misdelivered or “lost in the mail?”  What did you do about it?