Your tenant hasn't paid rent. They're ducking your calls, refusing to answer your emails, and when you knock on their door, no one is home – though the curtains do move suspiciously. Unfortunately, due to the unpaid rent, you need to tape an eviction notice to the front of their door – in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, the notice will spur them into action. Unfortunately, this last ditch method fails, and your left with unpaid rent to collect. Is it time for a collection lawyer? Before you hire a debt collection attorney, there's a few things you need to know.
Check the Rental Agreement
As with any contract dispute, the rental agreement will hold a lot of your answers. This is why it's imperative that you have a well-written rental agreement. Resist the urge to make verbal changes to the contract when negotiating, as oral agreements can be extremely difficult to enforce, and may be impossible for your collection lawyer to verify. Ideally, your rental agreement should specify what steps you may take to collect past-due rent once a tenant has been evicted.
Before you contact a debt collection attorney, you may want to try some self-help collection remedies. These laws will vary from state to state, and on the basis of the terms of your rental contract. For instance, in some situations, if the tenant has been evicted and left behind personal property, you may be able to take ownership and sell it in order to collect past-due rent. In other scenarios, you will not be able to. If you're at all unsure, consult with a collection lawyer before taking action – the law frowns on those who violate it, even unknowingly, and you don't want to leave yourself at risk for a counter-suit.
Small Claims Court
Though tedious, suing your ex-tenant in small claims court may be enough to get them to pay up. Note that when you sue your ex-tenant, you'll need to fill out a few forms and pay a filing fee. It's important that you ask for this filing fee as part of the damages you're suing for – or you'll be unable to collect it later. Depending on the amount at stake, it may be best to consult a collection attorney before heading to court, as they'll be able to advise you on your particular situation.