The average American checks their smartphone almost 50 times per day. For millennials, the number is even higher, at 74. With half of the renter population under the age of 30, digital technology is a game changer at apartment communities for both the residents and property managers.

Yet, many managers are still having their tech-savvy-tenants hand in paper checks to pay rent. According to a recent survey of property managers by Phoenix-based payment collection–system provider Billing Tree, only 50% of managers offer residents the ability to make monthly rent payments online, despite the fact that these portals save management staff accounting time and offer convenience for residents.

Before implementing a mandatory online rent-payment portal across all of the company’s market-rate properties, Chicago-based Habitat Co. executive vice president of property management Sheila Byrne says the management staff at the firm’s larger properties could spend up to a week at the beginning of each month just scanning checks to the bank.

“Saved time is really the biggest benefit of residents paying online—the manual labor of collecting and entering checks was really time consuming,” Byrne says. “Now, for every 200 or so residents who pay online, we can save two to three hours of accounting time. It gives our on-site team time back to connect with residents.”

The Habitat Co. uses Yardi’s RENTCafé online resident portal, which offers tenants the option to pay rent online through an app on their mobile phone, or simply by texting—a preferred method for a lot of today’s younger renters.

“Millennials are definitely locked into their phone and are really looking for the simple, everyday convenience of being able to access their accounts and easily and instantaneously pay rent without any trouble,” says Greg Mallin, director of business development at Billing Tree. For example, most online rent-payment systems will notify residents via e-mail or text that a payment is due, and residents can easily make a payment right on the spot by replying “pay now.”

Yardi's software allows residents to pay rent by responding to a text message.
Yardi's software allows residents to pay rent by responding to a text message.

“As millennials start taking up a bigger piece of multi-unit dwelling, SMS [Short Message Service] text payment capability and mobile payment applications are becoming more prevalent,” Mallin adds.

While paying via text or a smartphone app is a favorite method for today’s Gen Y renters, experts at Billing Tree say taking an omnichannel approach to rent payments—in other words, providing residents with several easy options for paying rent besides dropping off a check—also appeals to renters in this demographic, many of whom may be living paycheck to paycheck or have changing budgets to manage.

“Maybe the resident ran out of checks that month, had an unforeseen expense, or doesn’t have the full amount for the rent payment in their checking account at that time, so it works best with their budget to pay with a credit card instead,” says Dave Yohe, vice president of marketing at Billing Tree.

Plus, it’s a benefit to the property manager, too.

“[With these options], you don’t lose a payment -because someone isn’t able to drop off a check, and you’re going to reduce late fees, as well,” Yohe adds.