I closed on a new property on February, the tenant sent March rent by mistake to the previous owner, who refused to send it to me, saying that this covers the tenant's past owed rent.
I have an email from the tenant stating that this amount was intended to pay March rent, so I think that the owner has no right to apply it to the previous rent owed, since it's not his money.
Do you think I have grounds for taking a legal action based on the tenant email?
Should be pretty simple as far as you’re concerned. The tenant still owes you March rent. It’s not your fault he paid someone else, and I wouldn’t get in the middle of that. The appropriate action for you to take is to serve the tenant with a Pay or Quit notice for March rent. Since it’s already April, I wouldn’t wait any longer.
Does the previous owner legally owe it to you....yes.
Is it worth “taking legal action”.....doubtful.
Did You give the tenant proper notice of the ownership change along with where to send the rent?
That’s between the tenant and previous owner. Let them work it out amongst themselves.
In the meantime tenant still owes you rent.
I disagree with previous answers.
If the tenant owed money to the previous Landlord, that's for them to work out.
The issue at hand is something different. The tenant mailed out rent and accidentally sent it to the wrong party. The old Landlord does not have a right to that money, whether the tenant owes him something or not. If the old Landlord keeps it, I would consider that theft and I think a court of law would agree.
If it's not too late, have the tenant put a "stop payment" on the check before it's cashed.
If it's too late, notify the old Landlord - in writing - that the money rightfully belongs to you for payment of rent and demand return within XX days or you will file a claim in court. I think five days is more than sufficient but definitely put a hard date in the demand letter. If the Landlord does not give you the money, send it to Small Claims court immediately. Don't procrastinate. Don't let him make excuses or drag it out until next month or negotiate a payment plan or blame it on the tenant owing him money.
His inability to manage his rental and his tenant is not your problem.
If you gave proper notice to the tenant about how to pay the rent to you, then it is not your responsibility to try to recoup the money from the previous owner. I would let the tenants know that they are responsible for paying you the rent and they will need to come up with the money to pay you.
If they don’t pay immediately I would serve them notice and then if they still don’t pay then serve them eviction papers. If they still owe the last landlord money they are likely not going to be reliable tenants anyways so the sooner you get them out the better. It is up to the tenants to figure out how to come up with the money that they owe you. They can go after the previous landlord if they want to but I would stay out of it.