How to Legally Tackle Skipping Tenants
Dealing with tenants who skip out on their lease can be a very frustrating endeavor; however, there are some steps that a landlord can take to recover the money that is owed to them. As a landlord, you have a right to collect money that is owed to you when a tenant leaves the rented property prematurely. A lease agreement with fixed terms protects you from tenants who skip out on their remaining rent. They owe you the rent on that lease for the duration of the lease period or until you are able to rent out the property--whichever comes first. It does not matter whether the tenant gave you notice or they vacated the property in secret; the process of collection is the same.
Create a Documentation File
It is paramount that you keep written documentation of communication between you and the tenant. If the tenant provided you with written notice that they were breaking their lease agreement, include that letter in their file. If the tenant did not provide notice but left in secret, simply type up a short note that explains when you discovered that the property had been vacated.
To achieve the best results, stay organized and detailed in the records that you keep throughout the process. Be sure to record dates, times, and phone numbers associated with any conversations that you have with the tenants. You will need all of this information when you attend the court hearing.
Send a Written Notice to the Tenant
Send a written notice to the tenant to remind them that they are responsible for paying the rent until the end of the lease or until you find another tenant. Be sure that the notice you send expresses the fact they are not only still responsible for the rent, but they must pay the rent on time in accordance with the lease agreement. The notice should also include clarification that you will pursue legal action if the rent is not paid as required under the lease.
Inspect the Property
When a tenant provides notice that they are leaving before the end of the lease, inspect the condition of the property as soon as possible. Complete an inspection checklist and note any damage that has been caused by the tenant. You will also need to take pictures of damaged items, but normal wear and tear should be excluded from your list.
Prepare the Property
Make the necessary preparations to lease the property again. Once it's ready for rental, begin advertising and interviewing potential tenants. You will also need to keep copies of any ads you post and the receipts and costs associated with those ads. You should place this information in the file with your other documentation.
Notify the Original Tenant of the Total Amount Owed
Once you have rented the place or the lease has expired, you will need to send the tenant a notice of the total amount owed. Make sure that you have identified a deadline by which the money must be paid. Let them know if the money is not paid by that time, you will be forced to file a civil suit for the purpose of collecting the money that is owed to you.
If you don’t receive the money by the deadline, you will need to visit the county clerk’s office to file the suit and have a hearing date set. On the date of the hearing, take all of your documentation with you. Once you present it to a judge or justice of the peace, it should be a quick judgment. Not only will you recoup the money for the lost rent, but the judge will most likely make the tenant cover your court costs as well.
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