When Tenants Go Rogue: The Problems Tracking Tenants Who Didn't Pay

When a tenant skips town while owing you money for past rent or damages, you may have a real challenge finding them, especially if they're slippery enough to have dodged other debts, as well. Trying to reach a former tenant by phone is practically impossible in today’s world of disposable cell phones and call blockers.
This means you’ll likely need to up your game by taking serious measures to locate your negligent ex-tenant. Here are three alternative methods you can use to find a deadbeat tenant who owes you money:

1. U.S. Postal Service
Sometimes the post office can help you track down a former tenant. However, due to privacy laws, you may not be able to get the new address by simply asking for it. Luckily, there is a perfectly legal way around this dilemma. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Before you take action, wait until the mail carrier puts a “vacant” card in the mailbox or the tenant no longer receives mail at your rental property. This usually means the mail is being forwarded to a new address.
  • Once the tenant’s mail dries up, send a notice in an envelope addressed to your rental property with the words “Address Service Requested” written under your return address.
  • If the tenant has filed a change of address with the post office, your envelope will be forwarded to the new address. Plus you will receive a separate notice from the USPS that lists the tenant’s new address on record.

Keep in mind the post office charges a nominal fee for this service and it usually takes a few weeks to get the tenant’s new forwarding address information. If this method doesn’t work the first time around because the tenant hasn’t yet filed a change of address, wait and then try again.

2. Collection Agency
Another way to locate a former tenant who owes you money is by hiring a collection agency to find them. Since collection agencies keep a percentage of any money collected, it may not be worth the effort if you are owed a small amount. Also, before you make an attempt, you must have a legal judgment against the tenant before a collection agency can help you.
Once you obtain a legal judgment against your former tenant, a collection agency or judgment recovery agency can have their wages garnished and bank account levied. For a bank levy, you'll need the tenant’s bank account information; hopefully you kept a copy of any checks they used to pay rent in the past. Of course, the bank account still needs to be open for this to work. Also, there’s no guarantee that the tenant won’t close the account once a levy is in place.

3. References
You may also try contacting the personal and professional references listed on the tenant’s original rental application to obtain his new address. This process can be hit-or-miss, but it’s worth a shot. If you go this route, be very careful about what you say because the tenant could try to sue you if you say anything about his character that could be interpreted as slanderous. If the tenant can prove the statements you made about them have somehow injured his reputation, you could be found liable for defamation of character in court.
Locating a deadbeat tenant is no easy task, but these three alternative methods should help you eventually get results. Before you take any drastic steps to track them down, speak with a legal professional to ensure your actions comply with the letter of the law and won't cause future problems.

POSTED April 01 2015 10:36 AM

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