Tenants Who Steal: Avoiding Theft and Income Loss

by Chris on February 7, 2011

Last summer, a suburban Chicago landlord spruced up the landscaping for his tenants by adding $300 worth of plants. Within hours, the neighbors spied the tenant digging the plants back up, presumably to sell them and pocket the money.  The tenant was charged with theft.

Later, a Naperville, Illinois tenant was caught stealing electricity.  The man secretly plugged an extension court into an outlet in the common area of his rental building, and ran the cord to his own apartment. The landlord reported the tenant to the police, and the tenant was charged with theft.

Two months ago, police recovered furnishings that were stolen from a Groveland, Massachusetts rental property when the last tenants moved out.  Items included the kitchen table, Christmas decorations, and silverware.

Whether it’s easy-to-hock air conditioners or recycled copper wiring, appliances or lawn maintenance tools, each year tenants steal landlords’ profits.

What can a landlord do to prevent these income losses?

Weed out bad tenants before they rent with a thorough tenant background check that includes a criminal history search and eviction report.

Check with the previous landlords to make sure you are not inheriting a problem tenant.

Prepare an inventory of items that stay with the property, preferably with photos. Where possible, label the items.

Periodically inspect the rental property throughout the tenancy.  Let the tenants know you are watching.

Conduct a walk-through at the end of the tenancy with the tenant present.  Do not return a security deposit before the tenant has surrendered the keys and removed all of their belongings.

Build rapport with neighboring property owners.  Make sure neighbors have your phone number in case they see something suspicious.

Report tenants who commit crimes to law enforcement authorities, and pursue them in court for reimbursement of losses.  That way, the actions appear in tenant screening reports so the next landlord won’t get victimized.

Don’t strive to be a kind landlord – be the kind of landlord tenants don’t want to cross.  Make it clear if a tenant steals, they will get caught, and they will be brought to justice –tenants will follow the rules or they will suffer the consequences.  Period.   

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.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

bill dumler February 27, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Got problem with tenant. Cancelled month to month lease and tenant has transferred utilities to our Revert To Owner account. I consider this Intentional Theft. Cancellation date is 3 March 2011.

Like this feature and it’s informing as well. Keep it going…

Reynaldo Del Rosrio May 22, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I’m one of the assigned security personnel in one of the building being handled by my security agency.

One of the tenants of said building reported a theft and lost a valuable item. Said tenant now wants to charge the lost item to the building. The building in return now wants to charge the losses to the security agency.

What will be the action of the security agency?

Glen Bradshaw January 15, 2013 at 5:57 am

For three months my property manager didn’t notice the tenants took all the curtains and closet doors. He also did not make sure the tenant was there during the final walk through. When the tenants moved in, he did not get any ID from them that could be used to find them. Now my property manager says that if I want to talk to the tenants I have to hire a collection agency to find them. Did my property manager do anything legally wrong? If I did take the tenants to court, what are the chances of my getting reimbursed?

Chris January 15, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Hi Glen,
It’s really tough to answer specific legal questions because there are so many variables in each individual situation. Here, you should talk with a local landlord tenant attorney to explore your options. One possible issue is whether your property manager broke his contract with you, or is otherwise liable to you for his incompetence. Also, the tenants may very well be liable for your loss. Your lawyer may recommend filing a police report. Your case points out how important it is to obtain a completed rental application with the tenant’s identifying information. Debt collectors will have a much easier task that way. As you point out, it’s imperative to record ID, run screening reports and talk to the previous landlord, and to prepare a move-in/move-out inspection report so you can prove any loss. So sorry to hear you had this trouble — I’m sure you were counting on your manager to do a better job…

Carley June 28, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Hi, my tenants(recovering methodine addict, or so I thought) are two month behind and have disregarded all my attempts to make contact with them. I have filled for eviction and that is in the process. But I noticed today that my trailors is gone (it was in an empty lot next door) and so are they. There stuff is there and so is there dog. What can I do to prove it was them ( I know it was). It was custom made and very pricy. I am so upsett about this. What can I do?

Anonomous August 13, 2017 at 10:40 pm

My tenants sold my belongings. I went to the police, and they did NOTHING

Richard Nalupin Sam July 26, 2020 at 3:12 pm

Want to serve a eviction to a staff to vacate the company house because his son is continuously break and enter and stealing items from the neighbours. How should I wrote a eviction letter to the tennat/employee.

Richard Nalupin Sam July 26, 2020 at 3:14 pm

Want to serve a eviction to a staff to vacate the company house because his son is continuously break and enter and stealing items from the neighbours. How should I write a eviction letter to the tennat/employee to vacate the company or institutional house.

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