It’s often difficult (or darn near impossible) to find and collect from ex-tenants who owe you money!
Knock on wood … I prefer to spend my efforts screening tenants rather than chasing them. But if you do have a tenant who has gone missing with a debt owed, take comfort in knowing that there are some things you can do to collect on a judgment you’ve won.
1. Always Collect a Rental Application
The rental application allows you to run a credit and background check on an applicant to avoid getting a deadbeat tenant in the first place.
So if a tenant you screened skipped out on money owed to you, you can use the information you got from the rental application, lease, and contact sheets to find them. Personal references, job, emergency contacts, type of car and license plate number, and Social Security number can all be used to find a deadbeat later.
Once you’ve tracked down this tenant and have demanded payment of money owed, this person might give in right away and pay up. Anything’s possible.
2. Use the U.S. Post Office
Using the last known address of your deadbeat tenant (which is probably your rental property), mail a letter addressed to your old tenant at that address. Before mailing, write on the envelope, “Address Service Requested” as such:
In doing so, your letter will be forwarded to your old tenant’s new address, and the post office will let you know what that new address is. This method works only if the person left a forwarding address, however.
If you do get the new address, send a certified letter with a copy of the judgment against him or her, and demand payment.
3. Use an Online People Locator
There are a variety of websites that will help you find someone based on publicly available data. Some are more accurate than others, but rarely consistent.
For a small fee, you might be able to track down a former tenant with their data. Some of the leading options are:
There’s also a site, called SkipEase that has lets you search multiple sites at once. I’ve not tried it, but it seems promising.
4. Hire a Judgment Recovery Agency
If you can’t find your deadbeat tenant, or if you found them but this person still refuses to pay, consider hiring a specialist in getting your judgment. And no, we don’t mean Tony Soprano!
There are legal ways, such as using a judgment recovery or a debt collection agency. These people are experts in getting people their judgments. Of course, judgment recovery and debt collection agencies charge you, so you won’t recover all your judgment, but some is better than none.
Even if you use this type of service, there is no guarantee that they can get your money. So consider choosing a service that charges only if they collect, which is generally a percentage of the money they recover.
Some deadbeat tenants are “judgment proof,” meaning that they have no assets, aren’t working, or are working but are making very little. Just because someone is judgment proof now doesn’t mean that will always be the case. You can wait and try to collect again later in the hopes that this deadbeat finally has some assets or a job.
5. File an Abstract of Judgment
This method is a long shot, but it’s easy, so you might want to do it.
You file an abstract of judgment against your tenant with the county. You need to know the county your ex-tenant is in to know where to file, though. You then file at the courthouse. Doing so puts a lien on any real estate your deadbeat tenant has bought or will buy.
Sometimes, you can also put a lien on other types of property, such as a car or a boat. The lien becomes an issue only when the person tries to sell the property, but in some cases, you can force a sale.
Check with an attorney for more information.
6. Don’t Give Up
It’s important that you don’t give up too soon for a couple of reasons. One, you want to get all or, at least, some of the money owed to you. And two, by pursuing and finding this deadbeat tenant, you’ll make it more difficult for this person to rent another place and do this to someone else.