As a landlord, you are putting faith in the tenant to take care of your home and pay the rent as agreed. Credit reports and background checks reveal a person's financial and criminal history, but can't guarantee reliability. If your tenant moves out of your property without paying rent, it's possible to track him down. Locating a tenant will take some effort, but you don't have to hire a CSI team to do it. The art of tracking someone through the bread crumbs of information they leave behind is known as "skip tracing," and it can typically be done from a home computer. Once you locate the person, you can take action to collect the money you are owed.
Performing a Skip Trace
You can hire a skip tracing service to locate the tenant or you can do your own search. Begin by verifying the information the tenant provided you on the rental lease. Use the person's full name, middle name and any nicknames. Call phone numbers you have to make sure they are still connected. You can also call references to see if they are willing to provide you any assistance with locating the tenant. If you don't have any information to help, you can try a public records search for the most recent address and phone number on file. If you decide to use a skip trace service, you will need to gather as much information as possible on the tenant, such as the Social Security number, name of the spouse and place of employment. A skip tracing service observes addresses, runs background checks, conducts interviews, and may even go undercover to locate the person. So, obviously, given the expense involved, you may want to reserve this option for someone you really, really want to find.
Keeping the Security Deposit
You have a right to deduct the rent from the deposit. State laws vary on the proper procedure, but generally landlords must itemize any deductions and send the remainder of the security deposit to the tenant after the home has been vacated. Since a tenant who skips out on the rent isn't likely to provide you with a current address, state laws allow the tenant a certain amount of time to contact you with the information before forfeiting the rights to the deposit. In most states, a tenant has 30 days to provide the new address.
Filing a Lawsuit
If the security deposit isn't enough to cover damage and satisfy the rent, you can file a lawsuit against the tenant. The court will need the most current contact information on the tenant to serve him with the papers. If you win the lawsuit, the court will issue a judgment against the tenant. Judgments are enforceable by wage garnishment and even by liens on assets. The judgment will also appear in the public records section of the tenant's credit report until he pays off the debt.
Utilizing a Collection Agency
You can hire a collection agency to obtain the money the tenant owes. Many collection agencies specialize in recovering debt for landlords. Most collection agencies work on a contingent basis. When the rent is collected, the agency deducts a percentage fee for its service, which may be fairly stiff. While they are expensive, collection agencies are often very persistent and won't stop until you receive the rent.
Jeannine Mancini, a Florida native, has been writing business and personal finance articles since 2003. Her articles have been published in the Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida.