Bill Gray – The Landlord Doctor

Insider Advice on Collecting Tenant Debt and Screening Tenants

Tenant Debtor Objections

On this page I will list the common objections tenant debtors have given as reasons for refusing to pay their debt to their previous landlord.  As you will see, many issues can be prevented before the tenant every moves in, by fully explaining the terms of the lease.  Use this information to become a better landlord.  If you do, you will minimize tenant debt and lower the amounts tenants leave owing you.

1. The charges are inflated.  There is no way I owe that much!  The landlord is just trying to gouge me.

As I have said in other articles, landlords who exaggerate or pile on charges when a tenant moves out or is evicted, among other things, is almost insuring that the debt will never be paid.  There is just no sense in it.  Be fair and accurate in your charges.  Be prepared to document and justify every dollar you charge.

2. I paid a pet deposit for my dog to live in my apartment.  I am not paying for any damage my dog caused.

The landlord not explaining the specific terms of the lease upfront is a mistake.  If the pet deposit was a non-refundable deposit merely for the privilege of keeping a pet in the rental unit, this should be explained in detail to the tenant when he or she signs the lease.  Some landlords fail upfront, then they pay dearly on the backend.  This is one example.

3. The rental unit was cleaner when I moved out, than it was when I moved in!

This objection could easily be debunked if the landlord handles the move in, and move out properly.  Always perform a move in inspection checklist with the tenant, and both of you sign it.  “I didn’t have time”, is no excuse; take the time.  I would also take pictures on move in while the tenant was present, as well as using a urine stick to show the tenant that there are no urine stains in the carpet.  This inspection accomplishes three things.  1. It accurately documents the condition of the rental unit.  2.  It identifies any maintenance or safety issues you as the landlord may need to address.  3.  Your detailed inspection shows the tenant that you care about the condition of your rental and will reinforce to him or her that you expect the rental unit to be maintained in the current condition.

When the tenant moves out, an inspection with the tenant is not always possible, but should always be attempted.  In either case, you must perform a detailed inspection, taking good notes and pictures!  Document all damage on your move out inspection sheet and keep all receipts to repair and ready the unit.

4. I am a victim of identity theft, I never lived there so I am not paying.

This is very possible, especially if the landlord did a poor job of screening the tenant.  Even with the best screening efforts identity theft can happen.  Almost 8% of Americans have had their identity stolen.  Once the issue has been raised, every effort must be made to determine the truth.  If the landlord did his or her job correctly, they will have a copy of the tenant’s driver’s license in the file.  A picture is the quickest and easiest way to make the determination.   If the person in question is being truthful, they should be willing to assist you in determining the truth.  If you find that indeed the person was a victim of identity theft, you should give the person a letter stating such and remove any marks from the credit bureaus.

5. I moved out after six months, my roommate owes the money.  I don’t owe anything.

It is common for roommates to split, or for couples to separate or divorce.  The answer to this objection should have been handled at the time the lease was signed.  All adults living in the rental unit need to sign the lease.  If anyone on the lease wants to leave before the lease is up, they must be released from the lease (and responsibility) by the landlord, and all other adults who signed the lease.  A copy of the release should be filed in the tenant file, and each person who signed it should have a copy.  Explaining this at the time the lease is signed will dispel this objection.

6. I paid my half of the rent, my roommate did not pay his half.  I do not owe.

Unless the lease states that each roommate is responsible for a portion of the rent, they are both on the hook until the full amount is paid.  Accepting partial rent payments is a slippery slope that often ends in an expensive mess for the landlord.  Again, the terms of the lease should be fully explained at the time of the lease signing to prevent objections like this down the road.


Feel free to contribute other objections you have heard.


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