How Do I Collect Rent From Renters That Have Moved Out?

This shouldn’t be hard to imagine. You get in a disagreement with a tenant over one matter or another. Maybe they’ve already fallen behind substantially on the rent. A matter of a few days later, they’re packed up and gone–with your rent money in tow, of course.

What can you do?

The answer isn’t always “Just kiss your money goodbye.” Sometimes it is. But other times, there are some things you can do to cool the sting of the loss. How far you’ll want to take such disputes is a deeply personal decision, but here are some of the practical ways to address them.

Start With What’s in Your Control: The Security Deposit

There’s an old expression that defines wisdom as knowing the difference between what is and is not in your control. While this situation may have you feeling out of control, the reality is you aren’t completely.

Clearly, this is a situation where the tenants are saying ‘bye bye’ to their security deposit. The nonpayment alone is a sufficient violation of the lease agreement most of the time, but it never hurts to double check with a real estate attorney if, say, the ex-tenants later demand repayment. The security deposit should at least get you started.

Sue in Assumpsit

Here’s your nice, straight-forward legal remedy to this problem. Civil court will always be there when other institutions and people really fail you.

When you sue your former tenant in assumpsit, all you’re doing is asking the court to get them to pay what they owe you. That’s it. Some states don’t just believe you’re entitled to back-rent either, but also interest on the unpaid rent as well. We’re fans of such landlord-friendly statutes.

It’s always a good idea to check local laws and retain counsel if you really are planning to go to court. For large enough sums that the tenant could plausibly pay, this may be a worthwhile endeavor. Others may prefer to negotiate directly, arbitrate the dispute, or seek small claims damages as alternatives.

When is Suing for the Rent Worth it?

Your mileage with success in court will vary. The biggest considerations for most are their likelihood of success and the value of their own time. State law largely determines the firmer, as well as how much you can recover and in what venue.

The second consideration–about the value of your time and how you wish to spend it–is far more personal. Lawsuits are lengthy, often painful affairs. Most people will go well out of their way to avoid one. The reward and chances of victory need to be sufficiently high for the stress, frankly, to be worth the trouble for most of us.

That said, court remedies exist for a reason. They’re there for when your other efforts fail. When diplomacy, asking nicely, and raising your voice won’t do anything. If you’ve been screwed over, you can be made whole in a financial sense. Just understand that with anything court-related, there are never any guarantees.

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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