Collecting Rent Owed by a Tenant

By E-Renter Tenant Screening
Posted on June 27, 2006 under Landlord Tenant Lawsuits | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

If you have evicted a tenant for not paying rent the law allows you to collect the money owed you. Even years later.

But, before you can claim the rent, you need to get a court order or money judgement that gives you the right to do so. When you filed the tenant eviction case in court, a judgement and order i.e. a document signed by the judge authorising the local sheriff / officer to, if need be forcibly evict your tenant / tenants, had allowed you to regain possession of your rental property.

In order, to get a court to issue a money judgement against the tenant, two things are required:

  1. Court papers must be personally served on the tenant.
  2. The tenant is required to show up in court.

If eviction papers i.e. the court papers and not the notice to pay rent are posted on the door of the unit and/or mailed to the tenant, this generally means you did not get a money judgment from the court.

In this case, can I use Security Deposits by way of unpaid rent?

In case, you took a security deposit from the tenant when he / she moved in, you are legally allowed to apply the amount against anything the tenant owes you for back rent or by way of damages. However, it is necessary for you to comply with state law by notifying the tenant of your intent to use the deposit against the rent owed. And, if you returned the security deposit, despite having done so, legally you are still allowed to sue the tenant for actual rent owed and/or damages incurred to the unit.

In case, the tenant vacated your property before the court hearing, and if you were not able to get a money judgement, you can initiate proceedings against the tenant in the local small claims court for rent owed or damages to your property. A simple process, you can handle it yourself without hiring a lawyer. File the claim before the end of the statute of limitations, which generally ranges from three to six years, depending on the state you live in.

With a money judgment in hand, you can collect rent owed against all non-exempt assets of the debtor. Certain assets, such as retirement accounts are exempt from credit collection. Also, states recognising community property, allow assets of the debtor’s spouse to be attached.

But, the easiest targets for credit collection are bank accounts. A copy of a tenant’s recent cheque allows you to file for a ‘levy of execution’ on their bank accounts through the local sheriff. Note, making copies of tenants’ cheques each month is good practice as you know exactly where they bank.

If the tenant is employed, you can collect wages, but most states limit collection to 25% of the debtor’s wages. Still, a steady pay check allows you to your money back with interest. Getting a judgement transcript recorded in county records will ensure the tenant is not allowed to buy a house in that county without first paying off what is owed you. In case, a tenant owns other real estate in his / her name, the judgement will create a lien on the property, as well.

If you do not know where your tenant has skipped to, start a debtor proceeding in court that will make him / her appear in court to answer questions regarding his / her assets. Failure to comply can result in a warrant for the debtor’s arrest.

As a landlord, it is important for you to know the legalities of handling an eviction and getting rent owed you. If a landlord does not know the correct legal way of handling such eventualities, he / she may end up getting sued by the tenant, instead. Therefore, landlords, property managers, resident managers, etc. must keep themselves abreast of all pertinent landlord / tenant laws of their state.

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