Q: My tenant gave notice and moved out. On a pre-move out inspection, I discovered that she had trashed my house. She told me just to keep her deposit because she did not have time to clean or do repairs. I did the necessary work, but it cost $2,200 more than her deposit (getting carpet repaired where her dog ate it, re-painting rooms that she painted without permission, etc.) I kept all receipts and itemized the damage for her. I e-mailed her everything and I also sent it by USPS. I had to send it to the address that she rented from me because she refused to give me her new physical address. She told me that all of her mail would be forwarded. It has been a couple of weeks and she has not responded to my letters. I have her Social Security number and her driver’s license. How can I find out where she has moved to so that I can serve her? – TVS Landlord
This is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to tenant screening.
Hopefully, you asked this tenant to complete a rental application. Assuming that you also verified that information, then you have a fighting chance of finding her again, and collecting what’s owed.
Before you go too far with your search for the tenant’s whereabouts, check with an attorney or read your local court rules to see your options for service of process. For instance, there is a (remote) possibility your local landlord tenant law may allow service to be mailed to the last known address where the tenant fails to provide the forwarding address.
The cheapest and easiest way to find her new address is through the USPS. Speak with an agent at the post office about options for capturing her forwarding address. This may involve sending a letter to the last known address with an endorsement Address Correction Requested. For a nominal fee, this endorsement may come back with the new address. The success will depend on the length of time lapsed and whether the tenant is forwarding her mail.
If that doesn’t pan out, the next steps involve playing detective. A professional skip tracer would use the information in the rental application to attempt to locate the tenant. You can try the same tactic. The employment information may still be valid, and she could be served at work. Her contacts may include family members who know her whereabouts or when she may be visiting next. She may have transferred her phone service and kept the same number. A reverse look up could eventually reveal the new address.
Sometimes you can find clues on a person’s social media pages.
Another option is to pay for a public records search. While these searches are often focused on asset detection, they can pick up leads like major purchases, a house or car for example, that reveal addresses. Sometimes these searches pull up family or other personal connections. There are websites that offer these searches online, usually for about $50. Depending on your local rules, some of these costs may be recoverable in a collection action.
Generally, individuals are not allowed to search for other people’s information on Social Security or driver’s license databases. In some cases, a licensed private detective may be authorized. Otherwise, that is the domain of law enforcement.
The final option is to hire a professional. This may be a private investigative firm, or a collection agency. While the costs for this process are significant, at least you may see some of the money that is owed to you. Tenant Verification Service has teamed up with Fidelity Information Corporation, a national collection agency that can help collect tenant debts.
Whatever strategy you choose, remember this: Even if you net only a portion of what is owed, pursuing this tenant legally makes her accountable for her bad behavior. It may take time, but once her credit report and landlord references accurately reflect her character, she will have difficulty finding a place to live. That’s a strong incentive for her to make good on the debt she owes to you.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.