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Debt photoCollecting delinquent rent and damages against a tenant is the least appealing part of being a landlord. Yet, the burgeoning eviction numbers reported by courts around the country are an indicator that more and more of us are facing the challenge of delinquent tenants.

Don’t let false assumptions and preconceptions about debt collection, especially the belief, “I‘m careful, it will never happen to me,” affect your chances for tenant debt recovery.

Here are three common misconceptions that can hinder your success in debt collection:
MYTH #1:

If I don’t collect the debt right away, I may as well forget about it.

In fact, a tenant who doesn’t pay rent is typically experiencing a financial crisis, like a medical injury or job loss. While there will always be those who don’t recover, for many just a few months can make all of the difference in re-establishing their financial health.

So, why do some collection agencies tell you they can’t collect old debt or charge you more if the trail isn’t fresh? Because there are always a portion of debtors who will get scared and pay immediately when approached by a debt collector. The company still gets it’s hefty fee even in these easy circumstances, for little very effort — typically just a letter or phone call. (You can send your own debt collection letter.)

This is how they stay profitable. It doesn’t mean your older debt is uncollectible.

Reputable collection agencies will continue to pursue your debt indefinitely, or until the statute of limitations runs out, which can be many years after the default. Some of the better agencies are still collecting debt from the 1990’s.


The SSN is all I need to collect the debt.

While a social security number is instrumental to debt collection, it is only a part of the information that a good collection agency needs. Accurate and current employment and banking information is just as crucial. Here are some examples of what you should have in your rental application or your tenant file:

  • current employment info, as well as past
  • current bank account info, including a copy of each rental check
  • a copy of current driver’s license
  • a copy of current vehicle registration or vehicle plate and description
  • three personal references
  • three current emergency contacts, who are not the same as personal contacts
  • list of previous addresses


An applicant with good credit won’t default, or will be easy to collect from.

Even the most responsible tenants can suffer unexpected problems, especially in this time of high unemployment.

Likewise, screening on credit alone will not help you find a delinquent tenant who was using a false social security number.

It is critical to debt collection efforts to have enough information about the tenant to find them, and their assets, should they become delinquent. All applicants must be fully screened including credit, criminal history, employment, previous landlord, and previous address history.

It is this combination of tenant screening reports, cross-checked, that not only allows you to detect fraud, but will help you locate the tenant who becomes delinquent.

For more, see our Tenant Debt Collection forum.

For help with tenant debt collection, email [email protected].
American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your real estate investment including REAL ESTATE FORMS, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at

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