Why do we file against delinquent tenants? The answer seems obvious: We file to ensure we receive our rent. Once we’ve filed, we wait for the process to run its course. We’ve done all we can do. Right?
All too often, multifamily property managers file on tenants who are late, only to have their efforts halted for any number of reasons. Tenants employ stall tactics (they may plead with the judge for more time or make a bogus counter-claim against you) or pay just enough to stay the eviction. Maybe the judge is grumpy that day. It can become a frustrating (and lengthy) process. What else can you do? You’ve already filed! The simple answer is this: File again. Fortunately for landlords, in many states, the court system permits either concurrent cases against the same tenant or the opportunity to revise cases already in progress.
Unfortunately, when a tenant is more than two months delinquent, it is unlikely they will catch up. Faced with a judgment for thousands of dollars and the threat of eviction, many tenants will save their resources for their next security deposit while remaining in your property for as long as legally possible. One of the best ways to avoid eviction while ensuring your tenant pays what’s owed is to file every month. If a tenant missed January’s rent and you received a judgment, that’s a good first step. When that same tenant misses their due date in February, however, it’s important to file again. If the tenant pays January’s rent to satisfy the first judgment, or if January’s judgment is derailed for any other reason, you have another case coming just around the corner.
Just as it’s unwise to leave on a long road trip without a spare tire in the trunk, it’s unwise to start down the long road of collecting late rent without some insurance – a spare case, if you will. Without it, should your first case fall through for any of the myriad reasons cases fail, you’re left with no recourse.
Another reason for multiple filings is psychological. If your tenant knows they only have to pay one judgment to remain in your property, they may feel emboldened, as though their position is secure. If a second judgment – and a third, if necessary – is issued, the tenant no longer has his position of power. He must make good on his financial obligations or leave.
Remember that filing can not only act as a collection agent, but might serve to help your tenants get assistance. In many jurisdictions, tenants are not able to file for assistance with social service organizations until they have a case on file with the court. If you have a tenant in need of help, filing might help him access the resources he needs to stay current on his rent.
Even if your state does not allow concurrent cases, it is typically possible to amend active cases to add additional months of rent or fees. Wherever possible, landlords and property managers should avail themselves of this opportunity to save on filing fees, ensuring full judgments. This prevents the tenant from paying only the initial amount of the filing while racking up additional overdue rent and fees. Remember to check with your local court to determine the protocol for amending cases to add additional rent or fees. Details vary by jurisdiction.
In summary: Always be vigilant with your filings, maintain a consistent monthly filing policy so tenants don’t get too far behind and too deep in debt, avail yourself, if possible, of the right to file concurrent cases, and remember to add additional rent and fees to active cases as they progress. Also, consider using ClickNotices to manage your delinquent rent process.