Tough economy makes tenant debt tough, but not impossible, to collect

Geoff Roberts
Geoff Roberts | 4 min. read
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Published on January 4, 2010

We’re still recovering from a great New Year and to help us stay up-to-date with the Buildium Blog we enlisted Bill Gray,  Tenant Debt Collection Specialist, to tell us what to expect when it comes to tenant debt collection in 2010.  Bill’s blog can be found at www.thelandlorddoctor.com.

The downturn in the economy has caused many landlords to lower their credit requirements for new tenants.  Of course, lowering credit requirements increases financial risk.  Renting to a tenant with little or poor credit increases the likelihood that the tenant will at some point leave owing the landlord money.

This change in rental criteria is understandable, considering the need to keep all units rented.  But know that when you lower your standards and in turn incur debt, this debt will be tougher to collect than if you had rented to a tenant with good or great credit.  If you use a collection agency to collect the debt, you should also lower your expectations about how much you feel they should collect.

Collection agencies are reporting that they are receiving many more files than two years ago.  The average amount of debt in these files has also increased.  Relaxed rental standards, coupled with the high unemployment rate, have put collection agencies in a tough spot.

The American Collectors Association reports that the collection industry debt recovery rate is down 30-40% over last year.  Angi Pusateri, National Sales Manager for RentDebt Automated Collections, confirmed that her company is experiencing a similar decline in debt recovery.  However, RentDebt Automated is weathering the storm well and has added employees in the last year at their offices, which are located in Nashville, Tennessee and Dallas, Texas.

Jeff Cronrod, the President of Rent Recovery Service, a national collection agency specializing in the collection of tenant debt, estimates that nearly 40% of the debtors his company is trying to collect from are unemployed.  “It is not that these debtors do not care about the debt or their credit. They simply have no means to pay the bill,” Cronrod explained.

Saul Wertzer, President of Rent Recover Solutions in Atlanta, Georgia (not to be confused with Cronrod’s Rent Recovery Service), told me that his company has also seen an increase, not only in the number of collection files, but also an increase in the average amount of each file.  I have heard this from every company I have spoken with, in every corner of the country.  Wertzer went on to say that it is important for landlords and property managers to think long-term about debt they are owed by previous tenants.  Over time a good percentage of tenant debt is collectible.

If your collection agency has served you well in the past, stick with them, even though recent recoveries may have dropped.  Trust me, every agency is experiencing a tough time collecting debt.  Don’t jump ship and hire another agency, because eventually the economy will improve and many of these tenants who owe previous landlords will get back on their feet.  When they do, they will work to clean up their credit and pay their debt. But don’t wait until then to do something about it.  Now is the time to make sure the debt you are owed is reported to all three major credit bureaus. Whether your collection agency reports the debt or you report it via an automated service, make sure every dollar you are owed is reported.

Doing so will greatly increase the odds that you will get paid the debt your previous tenant owes you.

Read more on Accounting & Taxes
Geoff Roberts

Geoff is a marketer, surfer, musician, and writer. He lives in San Diego, CA.

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