Landlord Next Steps: Tenant Didn't Pay Rent and Left

Discover how to handle tenants who leave without paying rent: from proving property abandonment and assessing unpaid dues to legal avenues for recovery, learn strategies to safeguard your investment and mitigate future losses.

Key Takeaways

  • Document Everything: Ensure you have proof of the tenant’s abandonment and unpaid rent to support any legal actions.
  • Legal Recourse: Utilize small claims court or collection agencies to recover unpaid rent and associated costs.
  • Tenant Liability: Tenants are generally liable for rent until a new tenant is found, subject to state laws and lease terms.
  • Preventive Measures: Improve tenant screening to reduce the risk of future rental income loss.
  • Understand Your Rights: Know the legal steps to declare a property abandoned and the process for collecting unpaid rent.

When a tenant leaves without paying rent, you might have hundreds or thousands of dollars missing from your business funds. The exact amount will depend on the property and how much rent is owed, but the bottom line remains the same. Your business could suffer due to this loss of income. Is it worth pursuing that money?

Many landlords become stuck when this happens; they don’t know how to get unpaid rent from a tenant who has left without paying or notice. While options are limited, there are ways you can pursue collecting those funds.

Ultimately, you’ll need to decide if doing so will be worthwhile. Sometimes, your time will not be worth the rent once collected. However, the only way to make that call is to know what collecting after a tenant leaves owing rent entails. Today, you can learn just that.

A Table Of Contents On Tenants Leaving Without Paying

Determining That The Tenant Left Owing Rent

Landlords like you, who are stuck in a situation where they are owed rent but their tenant left without paying, may act rashly. After all, you know the property is abandoned, and the tenant isn’t paying; shouldn’t that be enough to pursue your missing funds?

Ultimately, you need to step back and document the process correctly. Before you will be able to use legal routes to pursue the missing rent, you will need to be able to prove a few important things.

Trying to collect the money independently without following the proper procedure could lead to legal trouble, so you will want to avoid that at all costs.

Show That The Tenant Has Left

Your Options When A Tenant Leaves Without Paying Rent

When a tenant moves out without notice, landlords must verify the abandonment according to state laws and then can take legal steps to recover lost rent and possession of the property. There are several ways you might be sure of this:

  • Tenant moved out at the end of the lease
  • Tenant provided notice that they were leaving
  • Contacted emergency contacts to get confirmation
  • Tenant hasn’t entered the property in more than the state minimum amount of time
  • Tenant hasn’t responded to a notice of abandonment
  • Neighbors saw the tenant moving out

These are only some ways to be sure the tenant is no longer staying at the property, but they are some of the most common. Ensure you thoroughly document whichever situation applies; this will be helpful later.

Show That The Tenant Hasn’t Paid

Additionally, gather documentation showing the tenant owes rent, what they owe, when they last paid, and other important financial details. If the tenant was served any notices related to the rent payment, make sure you also include copies of these documents.

Your Options When A Tenant Leaves Without Paying Rent

Once you are certain the tenant is no longer residing at the property and owes you unpaid rent, what are your next steps?

There are a few different routes to take. The path that will work best for you will depend on the exact situation, so do not expect a one-size-fits-all situation.

What you should do boils down to two main questions:

  1. Has your tenant’s legal right to use the property already ended?
  2. If your tenant moves out after their lease ends or has already been evicted, they have lost their legal right to the property. If the tenant gives notice and then leaves, this also applies. The property is considered to be fully in your possession. From here, you will want to pursue collecting missing funds through either a small claims court or a collections agency. Read more about both of these options below.
  3. Has your tenant left before their lease ended or without any notice?
  4. When the tenant leaves your property before the lease is up or without any notice, you must ensure their legal right to use the property is entirely over. Usually, this means you will file an eviction case. The specifics of filing an abandonment eviction case vary from state to state. Review your local and state rules about proceeding when a tenant leaves without notice. The goal of pursuing an eviction is to get an official judgment from the court and a writ of possession. The writ of possession proves you are the rightful property owner. Once you have this, you can pursue your missing rent through small claims court or a collections agency.

Small Claims Court

Suing a tenant in small claims court is one of the most direct ways to recover unpaid rent. Usually, landlords can sue tenants for breach of contract for not paying the rent owed.

However, before you get into a court case, it is essential to remember that it will take a fair bit of both time and money to pursue this type of case. Is the amount of unpaid rent in question worth the effort? Only you can make that call.

If you decide to pursue a case through small claims court, contact your local court circuit to find the documents you need to file. You will likely need the lease contract, rent payment documentation, previous court decisions, and other relevant evidence.

Can The Tenant Put Up A Defense?

Of course!

As with any court case, remember that your tenant may show up with their defense. A tenant might claim that the property was uninhabitable or that they paid the rent, and you are lying. However, proving your case should be relatively easy as long as you have the above documentation.

How Much Rent Are Tenants Liable For?

If you don’t pay rent and move out, you might be held liable for the unpaid rent and additional costs until the landlord rerents the property, impacting your financial and rental history. The exact amount of rent tenants are liable for depends on the terms of their lease, when the contract was breached, and what the laws regarding unpaid rent are in your state.

In most situations, the tenant is technically liable for all rent after they break the lease if they do not follow the procedure outlined in the lease to leave. Most states, however, have rules to help mitigate damages that will prevent tenants from needing to pay the remainder of the rent due.

Usually, the tenant is held responsible for all rent they missed paying in the past and all rent until the landlord finds a new tenant. If you stop paying rent and move out, you risk being sued for the remaining rent, besides potential negative impacts on your credit report and future rental opportunities. As the landlord, you are expected to make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant quickly.

What Could I Get From Small Claims Court?

What could be awarded after filing in small claims court?

You may be entitled to the following:

  • Remaining rent due until the unit is rerented
  • Charges for any repairs or cleaning beyond the security deposit
  • Unpaid rent not covered by the security deposit
  • Reimbursement for legal and advertising fees

The judge in each case will decide what is owed and when it should be paid. Once you have a judgment, the tenant must follow it and repay the rent. If they do not, you can take the documentation from the courts to your local sheriff to begin collecting.

Collecting Through Banks, Wages, And More

Once you win a case in small claims court, you will still need to collect the funds. When tenants don’t immediately pay up or do not seem willing to follow through with the judgment, you can take the writ from the trial to your local sheriff.

The sheriff can then serve the notice on the appropriate parties to institute a bank levy, wage garnishment, or real estate lien. Talk to the small claims court and your local sheriff to find out how to do this in your area.

Collection Agency

Other services that come in handy when collecting money after a tenant leaves without paying rent are the services offered by a collections agency. This can be an easy alternative to working with your local sheriff to try to collect the rent, but you will also have to pay for the service.

How To Mitigate Future Loss

The best way to prevent this situation from happening again is to improve your tenant screening practices. Many tenants who leave without paying rent are repeat offenders; more thorough screening may prevent them from successfully renting your property.

If you need help improving your screening process, an online screening service like RentPrep may help.

Tenant Left Owing Rent: FAQs

What Should Landlords Do If a Tenant Leaves Without Paying Rent?

Landlords should meticulously document the tenant’s abandonment and unpaid rent, then consider legal routes such as small claims court or collection agencies to recover the funds. It’s crucial to understand state laws and lease agreements regarding tenant liabilities and to implement thorough tenant screening to prevent future issues.

How Do You Get Unpaid Rent After A Tenant Moves Out?

When tenants don’t pay rent and move out, you will be at a loss for how to proceed. In most cases, you must file for eviction and/or sue the tenant in small claims court to collect the missing funds. Keep in mind, however, that every state has specific guidelines on how to proceed.

In Pennsylvania, for example, an official Landlord/Tenant Complaint Form must be filed with your local court system to begin the process.

Read up on your local laws and proceed from there to collect unpaid rent.

Can A Landlord Garnish Wages For Unpaid Rent?

Yes, there are some cases where you can do this to collect unpaid rent. To be able to garnish a tenant’s wages for unpaid rent, you will need to have a writ of execution provided through either an eviction or a small claims court judgment.

Once you have this writ, you can work with the sheriff to set up wage garnishment to collect your missing funds.

What Is Considered Abandonment By A Tenant?

Anytime a tenant leaves the property permanently, without notice, and before the tenancy period is up, it can be considered abandonment. If you are unsure your tenant has abandoned the property, you must do some research.

Most states also have an official channel through which you can have a property abandoned. Once the property is considered legally abandoned, you can continue to try to rent it.

What To Do If A Tenant Disappears?

If a tenant disappears from your property without warning, notice, or trace, you should contact local law enforcement first. While it is easy to assume the tenant skipped town to avoid rent, something else could be happening.

From there, you want to contact your tenant’s job, emergency contacts, and other contacts you have collected from their tenant application and lease. If you cannot track the tenant down and the state-required amount of time has passed, you can move to declare the property abandoned and continue to rent it.

Handling Unpaid Rent And Missing Tenants

Figuring out how to get unpaid rent from a tenant is challenging. No landlord wants to be in this situation, but every landlord deals with this issue at one point or another. It’s okay not to be sure how to proceed.

Remember to do the following to ensure your stability:

  • Decide if the amount of rent is worth the hassle
  • Make sure the property is truly abandoned
  • Keep track of all documentation
  • File in small claims court
  • Use a writ of execution to pursue the collection of missing rent

Collecting missing rent will not always be worth the time and effort required. In some cases, however, you will want to pursue this collection. For example, a tenant who owes three months of rent or breaks the lease in a hard-to-rent area just one month into tenancy may be worth pursuing.

Make your best judgment to decide what to do in this challenging situation!