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

When a tenant leaves without paying rent, you might be left with 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 without 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 worth your effort. In some cases, the time you spend will not be worth the rent once collected. The only way to make that call, however, is to know what collecting after a tenant left 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

Determining That The Tenant Left Owing RentLandlords, 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 make sure you document the process properly. 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 on your own 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

The first thing you need to be certain of is that the tenant has vacated the property. There are a number of ways you might be certain of this:

  • Tenant moved out at the end of 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 aren’t the only ways you can be sure the tenant is no longer staying at the property, but they are some of the most common ways. Make sure you thoroughly document whichever situation applies; this will be helpful later on.

Show That The Tenant Hasn’t Paid

Additionally, gather up documentation that shows the tenant owes rent, what they owe, when they last paid, and any 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 they owe 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?
    In cases where your tenant moves out after their lease ends or they have already been evicted from the property, the tenant has 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.
  2. Has your tenant left before their lease ended or without any notice?
    In situations where the tenant leaves your property before the lease is up or without any notice, you will need to make sure their legal right to use the property is completely over. Usually, this means you will need to file some sort of eviction case.The specifics of filing an abandonment eviction case vary from state to state. Review your local and state rules about how you should proceed when a tenant leaves without notice.The goal of pursuing an eviction is to get an official judgment from the court as well as 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

Your Options When A Tenant Leaves Without Paying RentSuing a tenant in small claims court is one of the most direct ways to try to get unpaid rent back. Usually, landlords will be able to sue tenants for a breach of contract for not paying the rent owed.

Before you get into a court case, however, it is important 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 out exactly what documents you need to file. You will likely need the lease contract, rent payment documentation, any previous court decisions, and any other relevant evidence.

Can The Tenant Put Up A Defense?

Of course!

As with any court case, remember that it is possible that your tenant will show up with their own defense. A tenant might claim that the property was uninhabitable or that they paid the rent and you are lying. As long as you have the aforementioned documentation, however, it should be relatively easy to prove your case.

How Much Rent Are Tenants Liable For?

The exact amount of rent tenants are liable for is going to depend on the terms of your 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 in place to help mitigate damages that will prevent tenants from needing to pay the remainder of the rent due.

Usually, the tenant will be held responsible for all rent that they missed paying in the past as well as all rent until the landlord finds a new tenant. In turn, you as the landlord are expected to put in reasonable effort to find a new tenant quickly.

What Could I Get From Small Claims Court?

In summation, what could you possibly 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 make the call about what is owed and when it should be paid by. Once you have a judgment, the tenant is expected to follow it and begin repaying 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 go the appropriate parties to institute a bank levy, wage garnish, or a real estate lien. To find out how to do this in your area, talk to the small claims court and your local sheriff.

Collection Agency

Other services that may 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 in the future is to improve your tenant screening practices. Many tenants that leave without paying rent are repeat offenders; more thorough screening may keep them from successfully renting your property.

If you need help to improve your screening process, an online screening service like RentPrep may be able to help.

Tenant Left Owing Rent: FAQs

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

When a tenant didn’t pay rent and left your property, you are going to be at a loss for how to proceed. In most cases, you will need to 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 its own specific guidelines on how to proceed.

In Pennsylvania, for example, there is an official Landlord/Tenant Complaint Form that 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. In order 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 can be considered abandonment. If you are not sure your tenant has abandoned the property, you will need to do some research.

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

What To Do If A Tenant Disappears?

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

From there, you want to try 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 not an easy situation. No landlord wants to be in this situation, but every landlord finds themselves dealing with this issue at one point or another. It’s okay to not 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 collection of missing rent

Collecting missing rent will not always be worth the time and effort that doing so requires. In some cases, however, you will want to pursue this collection. For example, a tenant who owes three months of rent or a tenant who 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 tough situation!