Renting can be a pleasure or a pain, depending on the clientele. Some tenants follow every rule and create a mutual goodwill relationship; others skip out without paying, leaving a shell of a rental property. Although all landlords hope for the former, there are times when every landlord must deal with the latter. The following tips will help you reduce your losses and possibly recoup damages after the sudden loss of a tenant.
1. Inspect the Property
If a tenant leaves, inspect the property immediately and document any damages. Take pictures and keep written documentation. Send copies to the tenant. Typically, a tenant who skips out will not provide a forwarding address, but he or she might inform the post office of the new address. If you send a damage claim, the post office could forward it to the tenant's new address. It's worth the effort to take this step first because it's the least expensive way to obtain money owed to you.
2. Try to Contact the Tenant
As mentioned above, it's important to inform the tenant of state of the rental. Call the tenant and use any means possible to reach him or her. Look up past addresses to determine if the tenant previously lived with a family member. It's much cheaper to try to contact the tenant before moving on to legal action. In some cases, the tenant might have a reasonable explanation for skipping out. Remain calm when you contact a tenant. Although you may be aggravated, getting angry with a tenant will only halt communication. If you reach the tenant's answering machine, calmly explain that you want to find out what happened. Mention that the tenant has a legal responsibility to you.
3. File the Necessary Paperwork
If, and when, the tenant refuses to contact you, file paperwork with your lawyer. You'll have to file a civil suit with the local court to obtain unpaid rent or force the tenant to pay for damages. Although this is a headache, it is a necessary step and should only be initiated as a last resort. In the initial tenant contact, mention a deadline. For example, tell the tenant, "You have a week to contact me before I take your case to civil court." Some landlords use a collection agency to obtain the balance due instead of filing a civil suit. Use the method that works best for you.
4. Follow Through
Follow through is the most important part of the process. If you state that you will file court or collections paperwork within a certain time frame, do it. Although this process is tedious, it's necessary if you want to recoup costs to repair damage. Many landlords are kind and don't want to resort to legal action, but tenants may take advantage of this kindness. Be sure to keep every piece of documentation. You'll need it if the tenant contacts you and asks for proof of damages or if the case goes to court. Follow through is the most important part of recouping the cost of rent and damages. Set reminders and remember to do what you say you will do.
5. Count Your Losses
Sometimes, court costs are too high, and the tenant is simply gone. In this case, it's best to count your losses and move on. Require future tenants to pass a full background check, as people who with good credit and rental histories are less likely to skip out on the rent. If you're unsuccessful in obtaining money owed to you, count the missing money as a loss, and screen future tenants carefully to avoid similar situations.
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