Tenant Debt Collection: 7 Tips for Property Managers

Posted by Ryan Howard on Mar 3, 2017 4:13:09 PM

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When property managers implement a streamlined rent collection process and expectations are outlined in the lease agreement, rent payments are typically made on time. Those payments that are delayed or remain unpaid can be especially trying to a landlord. Fortunately, a past due or unpaid rent bill doesn't have to be the end of the process. Property managers do have options. 

Here are 7 ways for property managers to collect past due rent.

Tenant Debt Collection Advice:

 

1. Documentation

The best place to begin after a rent payment is past due is to review the lease agreement signed by both parties. The lease agreement will include any specifics, including the amount of the rent and when it is due. If this information is not in a signed agreement, the landlord may not have much to go on in order to legally pursue rent collection. Other suggestions for the lease agreement also include:

  • Acceptable forms of payment - a paper trail is a good idea since cash payments may not be traceable
  • Where rent is to be paid
  • Late fees if payment isn't made on time
  • Fees charged if rent check is returned
  • Other consequences if payment isn't made on time, including collections and eviction

Managing the property paperwork, accounting and collections is important if the property manager may have to collect back rent at a later date.

See also: Increase Resident Collections with RealPage and BYL Integration

2. Contact

As with any consumer collections, especially if the property manager seeks to collect rent on behalf of a property owner, contact with the renter must follow the regulations of the FDCPA. Sometimes, a friendly phone call from the landlord may be all that is required to nudge a renter into paying their rent. If there are extenuating circumstances, the landlord may wish to negotiate another way for the tenant to pay their rent in full or to bring past due amounts current. When the tenant is non-responsive to contact, or if it appears they will not be cooperative, the property manager may begin late payment or non-payment proceedings.

3. Late Payment Policy

A late payment policy is outlined in the lease agreement and tells the resident what to expect when rent is not paid on time. While some landlords may choose not to execute a late fee the first time, it is inadvisable to ignore a documented policy for late payments. Enforcement of a late fee or other consequences could encourage tenants to pay on time or perhaps pay early, ensuring that rent payment takes a high priority. Late fees can be cumulative so that tenants know the longer the rent remains unpaid, the higher the fees. Property managers should check with state laws for reasonable late fee charges. As a reminder, these fees can only be charged if included in the written and signed agreement.

4. Non-Payment of Rent

As late payment fees are incurred, it may become apparent that the tenant isn't going to pay rent at all. The next step in the process is the "pay or quit" notice. The legal notice is a demand letter that informs the resident that rent, plus late fees, are due and are required to be paid within a certain amount of time. In most states, the property manager must give the tenant 3 days to pay rent or vacate the property unless the lease agreement states differently. A "pay or quit" notice may prompt payment or at least the release of the property so that the landlord can seek other tenants. The notice must follow legal standards including required contents (amount owed with fees, deadline for paying, and other state-specific requirements) and how the notice is delivered to the resident (taped to the door and via certified mail).

5. Eviction

Although eviction processes may vary by state, the landlord will likely have to file a legal judgment against a tenant for violation of their lease. Property managers cannot remove any of the renter's property, lock out the tenant, shut off utilities or physically remove the tenant without a court order. In order to obtain the court order, the property owner must appear in court with the proper documentation and records of communication to prove the tenant is in violation of the agreement. Again, a court ordered notice of eviction may provide more motivation for the resident to bring their accounts current with the property manager. 

6. Monetary Judgment

Some small claims courts will allow the property manager to also file a claim for past due rent and damages during the eviction process. The monetary judgment is still a challenge to enforce, meaning the tenant may still not pay what's owed to the landlord, but the tenant's credit will be affected and often their wages garnished. If the court will not allow the claim, the property manager may have to file a separate claim in order to collect past due rent. States and municipalities have their own ways of processing these claims and the burden of proof, plus court fees, is the responsibility of the landlord.

7. Property Management Debt Collections

To avoid eviction and legal proceedings, or at least a consideration before those steps, landlords have the option to pursue debt collections through a property management debt collections company. The collection agency, much like the courts, will require as much documentation as possible to pursue the account. Some items that are helpful include:

  • Tenant application
  • Lease agreement
  • Itemized list of past due amounts
  • Any attempts to contact and notes
  • A timeline of attempts to contact and when notice was given of late payments or eviction

Collection efforts may not recover all the past due amounts that are owed but the landlord has a better chance of recovery if the agency has experience in property management collections. Any amounts recovered will be less a small fee as dictated by the collections agency agreement. 

Property managers don't have to give up on tenant collections when the rent is past-due. There are many steps along the way that could prompt the resident to bring their accounts current. A fair and reasonable process will hold up in court, if need be, but a collections agency may be a powerful step before eviction.


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Topics: Property Management, Rent Collection