Sometimes we take on a new client who had a bad experience with a previous tenant who left the property owing money for either rent or repairs, and wondering whether it’s still possible to go after that money.
Generally, as long as too much time hasn’t passed, and you have documentation of what was owed, you can still go to court to try to collect what you’re owed. There are two things you need to consider:
1. How much time has passed? You will need to file your case against the tenant in court before the statute of limitations for contract disputes has passed. In Georgia, for written contracts, this is six years. We won’t even discuss verbal contracts, because they’re pretty much useless for all intents and purposes in real estate matters. So, if it’s been less than six years from when the tenant incurred the charges that you’re owed, you should be good to go on this item. If it’s been longer than that, then you’re probably out of luck, but can always consult with an attorney to see if there might be some sort of special circumstances that would apply.
2. Assuming you’re within the statute of limitations, the next element is evidence. As the plaintiff, the burden of proof will be on you to show that the tenant owes you the money. Depending on what exactly the tenant owes for, that evidence could be different things. If he owes you rent or late fees, you would probably need to present a copy of the lease and your rent ledger to the judge at trial. If the tenant claims that he made payment, he would need to show receipts, bank records, or some other form of evidence to refute your ledger. If you don’t have a copy of the lease and a detailed ledger, though, you’re pretty much out of luck trying to collect rent. For repairs, you’ll need to have evidence of what the condition of the property was on move-in, and what the condition was on move-out. This could be as simple as a signed form that both you and the tenant signed on move-in and move-out, or it could be more detailed, such as date stamped photos or videos. The judge will probably also want to see receipts, invoices, or some other form of proof showing that you actually did incur the expenses for the repairs.
If you have all of that, you’ll probably be filing in magistrate court, as the balance is likely to be under $15k. If your balance exceeds that amount, you’ll need to file in superior court, which means you’ll need to hire a lawyer. In magistrate court, you can represent yourself, although we would always recommend seeking out the help of an attorney if the money you’re owed is significant.
Better yet, hire us and we can take care of this all for you with our in-house experts and our attorneys we always have on retainer! Give us a call.