Can you really get your money back from deadbeat Tenants?

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After completing hundreds of evictions in 3 states, it has become very clear that the most important thing that comes from those evictions is that the Landlord finally gets the property back and the Tenants are given the boot.

But the most common question our clients usually ask is “can we go after the Tenants for monetary damages, including lost rent?” The truth is you can definitely go after them…but do you really want to?

The time and energy it takes to file the judgment, track down the Tenant (and if in certain states like California, you have to find all of the Tenants), find where they work, file a writ against their place of employment to attempt to garnish wages, or turn it over to a collection agency and possibly get 30-40 cents on the dollar (if they can even collect) is often a lot more work and money than the judgment is worth.

Then there is the question of exactly how much can you get? Remember you are only going to be awarded damages to the property above normal wear and tear and you have to prove those damages. Also, you can only collect lost rent by month. For example if you have 6 months left on a lease when a Tenant is evicted, you are not entitled to all 6 months. You are only entitled to the vacant months until you re-rent the property.

Lastly, in the current rental market, many of the Tenants don’t have great credit to begin with, so threatening them with collections or judgments really has no impact. You may not be the first collection and if you have had to evict, you most likely will not be the last.

So what should you do?

  1. Screen better: This doesn’t mean you become obsessed with credit score but rental history references and employment history will be key to decreasing the likelihood of eviction
  2. If you do have to evict, don’t make it an emotional experience. Try to reach out to the Tenants and get them to leave before the eviction. This will save you money and potentially stop the Tenants from unnecessarily damaging the property (don’t bet on the property being cleaned, but its better when the home isn’t missing appliances and cabinets).
  3. If you do evict and retain a judgment against a Tenant, pay the money to file the judgment where it will remain on record in the county where it is awarded for 3 to 5 years.  This isn't expensive and is usually enough to get the judgment onto the Tenant’s credit report.
  4. If you choose to go the collection route, you can file a motion for a debtors examination or attempt to garnish wages, garnish bank account or have a writ of execution completed against the personal property of the Tenant.

Understand that Number 4 can be extremely time consuming and may not bear fruit. As always, consult your local attorney for their expert opinion, but remember the key here is determining whether the “Juice is worth the squeeze.”

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