Tenants break lease and won’t pay rent

6 Replies

So, here is a fun one.

After almost two years of renting our tenants are getting divorced and decided to break their lease. Their contract would have ended the end of June, but the husband moved out the second week of February and the wife the following week.

It looks like the husband just disappeared and we have only been able to contact the wife, who claims to have no knowledge of his whereabouts even though they have two children together.

The wife also seemed to be under the impression that we should be so kind and no longer charge them rent since they moved out and she no longer has the funds to pay the rent.

We put the house back on the market as soon as she left to keep the damage for to a minimum, but we haven’t had any luck finding new renters yet since the market is kind of slow until May or June.

Since March rent was due, we sent her and her husband a reminder to pay the rent.

Well, of course that did not go over well. She came back with a first emotionally plea and then of course the blackmail with accusing us of letting them live in a house with mold and her children getting sick from it and she having to take them to the hospital.

We have always responded to all maintenance complaints in a timely manner and also addressed the rather small mold issue (water leaking through the side of the back door, replaced the whole door).

Now, where do we go from here?

I want to send her to collections after we have a new renter, so we know how much rent would be due. They also left the house a mess, so the security deposit won’t cover the rent.

Can you send both of them to collections for the sane amount?

What would you do?

I truly feel awful for her, but I also have a family to support.

Thank you.

You file in small claims court to collect rent owed and damages.

This is routine for landlords and although many will suggest that it is a waste of time it has been proven that at some time in the future many will come back to settle the claim. They will discover that with a claim against them they can not get credit in the future. This of course only applies if you are dealing with normal responsible adults, with jobs.

Small claims court is inexpensive and designed for th eindividual to manage themselves. Often just filing will prompt them to pay.

You had a contract (lease) with them and they broke it.  On top of that, it sounds like you were a responsible landlord and now they're threatening you.  Personally, I don't like that tactic and would hold them responsible for the money they owe you.  Everyone has set backs in their life (i.e. divorce, loss of job, death in the family, etc), but that's no reason to stiff you on money they legally owe you.

Small claims is one option, depending on the amount and whether you think you can collect on a judgment.

Another option is collections.  You can use a company like Rent Recovery Service or Debt Reporting Service to report the debt on their credit report.  You don’t even need a judgment to report it, and - who knows - maybe some day they’ll need/want to pay it off. At a minimum, it’ll warn other landlords who check they’re credit that their a problem tenant.

If they both signed the lease, they're both responsible.  You could report the debt for both of them and if one happens to pay you, then you could just cancel the debt reporting for the other so you don't collect double.  After all, I'm assuming you just want what's owed to you and not any more. 

Hope it works out for you.

Thank you for the great answers!

I have another question: Since we are kind of tired trying to go through the screening process of new tenants...

What happens if we sell the property? Do they owe us rent until we put it for sale, if it does not rent before then?

Thank you.

I realize this has been a while but typically, the person that signed the lease is responsible for the rent for the entire term of the lease. Normally a landlord is expected to get another lease on the property and then the liability for the previous tenant would be for the unleased months. You need to go to court to get a judgement against them for the amount they owe you. You also need to make a verifiable effort to lease or sell the property in the meantime. Getting a divorce does not cancel the lease and assuming they both signed it (which they should have) they are both responsible. ie, either or both of them owe the money. Keep after it.

Make sure you are complying with your states landlord/tenant laws such as providing a document showing disposition of the security deposit (retained for unpaid rent, etc)

I think the responses to your question were dead on. Hopefully you have done one, or both, of the solutions by now. And be generous to add things like clean and fix costs to the amount you actually ask for.

If you have, you'll get your money. It may take 3-5 years. But both of them, together or separately will want to buy or do something requiring that this debt be removed before they can do it. It is pretty rewarding when they finally contact you back wondering how they can get payment to you! :)

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