One of the most troublesome aspects of being a landlord is tenants who skip on their payments. While doing thorough research into the tenants before renting to them can reduce the frequency of this, even the most thorough landlords are sometimes caught by surprise. When this happens, it’s important to know what your legal rights are. While the process varies from state to state, there are a few general guidelines to follow.
1. Perform an inspection
You have to give notice to the resident that you will be entering to perform an inspection. Visit the home and place a notice, and then come back the next day. Until this is done, you cannot legally enter the property according to most state laws. However, make sure to check the regulations within your own state; in exigent circumstances, such as clear and obvious abandonment, or if you believe someone to be at risk because of the state of the home, you may be able to gain access.
2. Determine abandonment
When performing the inspection, look for clues that someone may have abandoned the property. Check the cupboards for dishes, look for furniture, etc. Speak to the neighbors and ask if they saw any signs of anyone leaving. Make sure to note the times and keep meticulous records of the inspection; this will come in handy later. Make sure to take pictures of the property to note its condition.
3. Leave a “Belief of Abandonment” notice
Landlords have to give residents notice before repossessing a property. If you believe the property has been abandoned, place one of these on the front door of the property. It should state your reasoning behind your belief, how much is owed, and whether you intend to pursue legal action to recoup the costs.
4. Retake the property
If another two weeks pass and you’ve heard nothing from the tenant, you are then legally able to enter the property and change the locks, as well as take note of any damages and add the repair costs to what the former resident owes you. If the resident gave a deposit, subtract that amount from what they owe you. Any leftover amount can be taken to a small claims court in order to get it back. However, make a note that it can sometimes take quite a long time to recover funds, particularly if tenants are adept at skipping town without paying.
Preventing Residents from Skipping
While some people will skip out before their lease ends simply as a way to avoid paying their rent, others sometimes have seemingly legitimate reasons, such as poor property upkeep. As a landlord, make sure you do everything you can to ensure your rental property is well maintained and that all potential issues concerning heating and air, plumbing, and electricity are taken care of. Even if you attempt to sue the former tenant to recover funds, if they present the court with a legitimate reason for which they can provide some amount of proof, it will be difficult to win the case.
Having a resident skip out on paying rent is an all too common occurrence for many landlords. However, there are steps to be taken to help keep the headache to a minimum. Check with your state to find out the exact length of time required before you are able to retake the property and place it back on the market. If it's been a while since you last rented, make sure to pay attention to the going rates in your area -- property values may have changed, and you might be able to charge a bit more than before!
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