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How to Find and Collect From A Rental Tenant That Moved Out

Too many landlords and property owners have experienced nightmare tenants in one way or another. Whether they skip rent or destroy property (or both), they always end up accumulating astounding debt… that of which never gets returned. When the time comes to find and confront them about the money owed, they seemingly disappear—address and phone number included. While there are a number of ways to try and find them, many will be ineffective. For example, there are plenty of people locator websites (like PeopleFinders, BeenVerified, etc.) where you can try finding as much as you can, but they only take you so far before questionable payment methods start arising. Even if you do find them, how do you get them to pay up?

So, the question is: How do you actually get your money back from a former tenant? There are a few options:

  1. Use a U.S. post office
  2. Hire a lawyer to send a letter
  3. Take them to small claims court
  4. Use a collection agency

While all of these options yield results, some may lead to dead-ends, unnecessary stress, or time wasted. Below, we break down these options and determine which is ideal for specific situations, as every former tenant is different.

See: 5 Debt Recovery Tips to Get the Payment You Deserve

The U.S. Post Office Can Help Find an Address

USPS Helps Landlords Locate Missing Tenants

The U.S. post office can actually help you in locating a missing tenant. Although your former tenant is no longer at their last known address, you can use it to find their new one. Just send a letter to their old address, as you would regularly, but this time write “Address Service Requested” on the envelope.

Most may not realize it, but the post office can help you forward mail to an individual’s most recently updated address. When you send a letter to your old tenant’s address with “Address Service Requested” on the front, the post office will actually let you know what their new address is. Additionally, they’ll forward that letter to their current residence. However, this only works if that person left a forwarding address. If they didn’t, or are refusing to respond, there are more effective measures.

Pay a Lawyer to Write a Letter

Let’s say they received your letter and attempts at collecting the debt. More often than not, they simply won’t respond or continue to evade their responsibilities. Although this is a situation to be taken very seriously, many times individuals in debt to their landlords don’t—which is why you can up the ante a bit by hiring a lawyer to take your words and stamp their certification on it.

Take the letter you wrote for your tenant, and give it to a lawyer. They can rewrite that letter into their own words, and send it to your old tenant certified. When your tenant receives a letter on your behalf written by a lawyer about their debt, they may take you more seriously.

If you choose to give this a try, we must inform you: attorney prices can be high. Before you have a lawyer write your old tenant a letter, make sure you know exactly what you’re being charged. If you ask them beforehand, they will give you a quote or an idea on how much it will cost to write and send a letter. The downside of this option is the expense; although sending an attorney-certified letter is effective, it doesn’t guarantee a response or payment. In fact, they may continue evading your attempts to collect and you’ll end up right where you started—but with less money.

Go to Court

Landlords can take tenants to small claims court for debt collection
Small claims court can provide relief when tenants stop paying rent.

If all attempts to reach your old tenant has failed, court is an option. You may file a small claims suit and take them to court in front of a judge—this method ensures your old tenant’s appearance. However, while this an extremely effective measure, it still doesn’t guarantee your money owed. In fact, we have seen many situations where a landlord wins in court against their tenants, and is promised a large amount of money that they never see. How is this possible, you ask?

When a situation like this happens, the judge will order the tenant to pay up the money—with annual interest. Although this interest rate varies, it’s significant to both you and the party in debt. However, it may take years for them to actually start paying. Although you beat them in court and the judge ordered them to pay, they still haven’t come around. While having an annual interest rate on your side helps, it doesn’t do anything if they continue evading you.

Call a Collection Agency

This option is usually seen as a last resort, despite its effectiveness and affordability. Hiring a collection agency to get your money back is the most effective measure a landlord can take against an ex tenant. Unlike a commercial or credit agency, collection agencies can actually find whoever owes you money, discover their assets and properties, and even report them to credit bureaus.

Additionally, a lot of collection agencies—like Southwest Recovery Services—are contingency based. This means you don’t have to pay them unless they collect your money. Hiring a collection agency, over time, saves you more money than hiring a lawyer, as attorney fees are up front. This is why hiring a collection agency is the most effective route—especially when dealing with tenants—as anything else could cost you more than you gain.

Companies like Southwest Recovery Services reports the debt to all credit bureaus, for free. While this initially doesn’t seem like a move towards physically getting your money, it does ensure your old tenant feels the blow. When they go search for other places to rent, for example, those landlords will be able to see the outstanding debts and lack of accountability—and decide otherwise.

See: When is Debt Negotiation my Best Recovery Option?

Southwest Recovery Services Collects

collection agency celebrates collecting debt from debtors
A professional collection agency may be your best option.

The truth is, collection agencies are able to use methods and routes that other companies’ credit departments simply cannot do. In a situation where a former tenant—or any person in debt—seems to have disappeared, it’s highly recommended to contact a collection agency as soon as possible. Professional debt collectors from a collection agency have the extensive resources to track down any person or entity in debt to another. Once they find them, they use their extensive knowledge and training to apply the right pressure and take back what’s owed.

Although Southwest Recovery Services’ agents are professionally trained to collect debt, the sooner they’re on a case, the better. The quicker a collection agency receives an account’s information, the easier it is for them to successfully collect the entire amount owed. Don’t let that old tenant continue avoiding you and their debt—you can get started getting your money back today.

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Southwest Recovery Services is a national collection agency with offices in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Ohio, Florida and Georgia.

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