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Home · Property Management · Collections : Facing Down a Nightmare Tenant
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 It’s every landlord’s nightmare.

And it just happened again, this time to an Omaha landlord. He reports discovering extensive damage to his rental property, including stolen appliances and fixtures, foundation damage, nine broken windows and five broken doors, including the garage, trashed carpet, and smashed drywall. This landlord estimates the damage to be about $13,000.

So what does a landlord do when faced with such a dizzying loss? One word should come to mind: accountability.

Tenants like this are banking on the fact that most landlords do nothing. Discouraged, landlords in this situation often will give up because they assume that they’ll never find the deadbeat, and even if they do, they think they’ll never see a dime.

But if you care about your bottom line — and your sense of fairness — you must pursue the legal rights you have against a problem tenant.

The first step, of course, is prevention. Carefully screening tenants will reduce the likelihood of renting to someone who will destroy the property. This landlord discovered the damage during a property inspection, and quickly moved to evict the tenant, both good moves.

Now, comes the recovery. A landlord must restore the unit as quickly as possible and seek new tenants. Not only does that reduce the injury, but it is required by law. Keep meticulous records, including a move in/move out checklist signed by the new tenants.

Stay on the trail when the tenant leaves. If they believe they’ll get a deposit back, they’ll provide a new address. If you’ve done a good job with the rental application, you’ll have tons of clues as to how to find both the tenant and their assets.

If necessary, use a tenant debt collection service. Rent Recovery Service specializes in tenant debt, and provides an inexpensive means to send automated collection letters under the auspices of a nationally-known collection agency. The advantage: you keep whatever you collect. If more muscle is needed to produce the results you want, the company offers full service collection based on a contingency fee. Some landlords are adverse to collection fees, but keep in mind that every dollar you receive from the efforts of a professional collection agent is one more dollar you thought you’d never see.

Even deadbeat tenants find the way to rehabilitate. Your collection file will follow that tenant around for years, and eventually they’re bound to have to deal with what they did to you. And that’s accountability.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for all your property management needs. Find out more at

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  • Milton Trachtenburg

    One issue you didn’t mention that can minimize this kind of situation is if you make frequent “inspection” visits under the guise of making decision whether to upgrade or just determining if preventive maintenance is needed. Why the guise? NEVER give a tenant the feeling he or she isn’t trusted. It is a psychological ploy but one that works. My small claim to fame is that in 10 years of being a landlord with zero experience in real estate, I have not lost a single dime of rent or had more than minimal repairs by using this method and I have had some really sketchy tenants obtained by real estate companies. Many of them do not give a damn so long as they get their commission. You can get on top of it before it becomes a $25,000 nightmare. I have had difficult tenants whose behaviors were short circuited by early intervention. Making my situation more difficult is that I live 1250 miles from my units. By using frequent flyer mileage, I can round trip it in a day and it can save thousands of dollars and promote better relations with a tenant. When I visit, I always bring a lunch or a bag of baked goods as a present. For ten dollars (or less) those gentle touches do go a long way in turning a tenant into a more responsible person. Landlord/tenant has been a contentious combination since … forever. it doesn’t have to be. I have also had many renewals because of how I approach the relationship which makes a huge bottom line difference.

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