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What to Do if Your DC Area Tenant Refuses to Pay

illustration about a tenant holding his money and refusing to pay
May 1, 2020 Washington DC

Being a landlord is difficult. Doing it yourself means you have to find and screen tenants, keep up with maintenance, and handle the business’s financial end.

While DC area rents are high, and good landlords can make a decent income, there is one nightmare situation that causes even the best landlords to shudder: when your tenant refuses to pay.

There are various reasons why tenants don’t make good on their monthly obligations. But when you’re on the hook for a mortgage and don’t have the rental income to cover it, things can get bad fast.

You have to be careful in these situations. Some tenants use housing codes to their advantage in order to get out of paying. Check out the following suggestions to appropriately handle tenants who will not pay.

Figure out How to Reach Your Tenants
The format of professional communication has gone through several evolutions and it’s important for landlords to find the best way to communicate with their tenants. Once you have found your preferred communication style, institute a consistent communication procedure for your properties.

Talk to Your Tenants

Communication is the trademark of a good landlord. Talk to your tenant in person if possible and find out the nature of the problem. Don’t assume the worst. People make mistakes. Sometimes it could be an oversight on the tenant’s part. If they’re going through a rough time, be sympathetic. Try to work out a plan to get them back on track.

If your tenant refuses to talk or is uncooperative, keep your cool. Let them know that you’ll be sending them a late notice if you haven’t already, and give them a deadline to resolve the situation. If they make threats, don’t respond. If they state they are not paying because of a maintenance issue, make a note of what it is. Let them know that they need to put it in writing if they are not paying because of this.

When you’re finished with your conversation, document what was said, who was party to the conversation, and the occurrence’s date and time.

Keep Detailed Records
Not only should you keep records of your conversations with the tenant and any official notices sent, but also save proof of repairs made to the property. If you decide to take the tenant to court, you’ll have to provide this. Save every note you receive from the tenant, especially if they provide you with written notice of a refusal to pay.

Take Legal Action
Before you can evict your tenant, you might have to serve them with a notice. Consult an attorney to find out the procedure for your property’s jurisdiction. Evictions are expensive and can take a long time. Before you start the process, do your best to work things out privately.

If your tenant sues you before you start the process, be prepared for a lengthy battle. You won’t be able to evict them until the case is settled, and sometimes the rent money is held by the court until the case is completed.

Nonpayment is just one of the many issues you’ll encounter as a landlord. Do your best to keep an open communication line with your tenants and stay on top of any issues they inform you of. It’s less expensive to keep a tenant than to have a vacant property.

If being a landlord is becoming cumbersome, consider hiring a property manager. Their vast pool of experience and resources make it easier to deal with tenant problems like nonpayment. Not only will it save you money in the long run, but you’ll sleep easier knowing your phone won’t be ringing all hours of the night.

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