As landlord it is your job to make sure the property you manage is well maintained, safe, and that the tenants have a peaceful place to call home. Part of this stewardship is making sure everyone pays the rent on time because without income the upkeep and management costs required to keep the property functioning cannot be paid. You could very well take all the right steps in the tenant screening their record is clean and the background check company you used is a reputable one. However, there may come a time that despite all your due diligence that the tenant breaks the lease with no warning. This leaves you in a bind having to fill a suddenly empty apartment or property at a moments notice. As vacant properties make no rental money this can put you in quite a situation. Yet there is legal recourse if a tenant does break their lease without warning.
Firstly, you should keep detailed records. If the tenant left a letter about their breaking of the lease file it. Also file any other important information. This includes the condition of the property, any attempts at contacting the former tenant, and nay communication. Make sure this is detailed so take down names, time, dates, and contact methods used. All this information can prove critical if you end up in court trying to collect monies owed.
Secondly, send a certified letter to the former tenant explaining what they owe based on the contract that they signed. Now this can vary based on state and local laws as well as the language of the lease agreement. However, one point that is universal is that all rent contracts have an enclosed statement on what is owed if the lease is broken early. Do note in your letter if payment is not received then legal action must be taken.
Then, do note any damage to the property. Inspect it closely after the tenant has vacated and record anything out of the ordinary that you discover. Keep detailed descriptive records and above all else take pictures. Keep this property checklist in a file with all other important information.
Next, when sending a written notice of monies due to a former tenant it must be detailed. Include the total amount due and a detailed explanation of where the charges originate. If repair work had to be done include copies of receipts. Also be sure to notate any usage of any remaining security deposit. Lastly put a reasonable timeframe on when payment must be received. Again stress that if payment is not received you will be taking the tenant to small claims court. As an aside be sure to check your local laws for what is considered a reasonable timeframe for collection before filing with the court. Send this notice of monies due via certified mail and keep a copy for your own records.
Lastly, if the tenant does not pay then you file a formal civil suit with the county clerk’s office. The court will then contact the former tenant and a court hearing will be set. When going to court be sure to bring all the information you have collected. The goal here is to show you have been diligent and forthright in your attempts to collect the monies due and this was not done rashly or out of spite. If the court rules in your favor then they will pick the method of repayment. This can take the form of monthly payments, garnishment, and various other forms of collection. Always follow and respect the ruling of the court.