Landlord / Tenant Q&A: CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I have a “what if” kind of question. As an owner of two rentals, I’ve been careful and fortunate for the most part in the tenants I’ve rented my units to. However, I am wondering about the recourse a landlord would have if a tenant refused to pay rent for the last two months and left the unit in need of repairs. If you have information on the individual’s workplace and their bank, is it possible that their wages or bank account can be levied against?
Do you file a claim, go to court, etc.? What about necessary repairs…if you have documentation, can that be added to the amount of rent in arrears if the deposit doesn’t cover the costs? Will this hypothetical tenant’s credit be affected and is there a service where a landlord can file a case history of a “bad tenant”?
A. If your tenant doesn’t make good on their rent payments or there are damages to the unit that exceed the amount of security deposits being held, then you can go through the small claims process to collect. In Hawaii, the maximum amount you can claim in small claims court is $5,000. If the judge ends up hearing the case – assuming you elect to not go through the arbitration process and you win the judgment, then it will be up to you to record the judgment and then complete the necessary paperwork to collect on the judgment. Recording the judgment makes public record of the tenant’s delinquency.
The court doesn’t collect on the judgment for you so before you even go through this process you need to ask yourself if you can collect if you win. Some people and businesses will prove to be harder to collect from than others, they have little money, few assets and aren’t likely to acquire much in the near future. If they don’t pay voluntarily, you may have a hard time collecting on your judgment. If the person you’re suing has a steady job, valuable real property, or investments, then you may be able to collect by garnishing his wages if you win.
Regarding the repairs – to be able to win in court you will need to have documentation of the condition of the property before the tenant took occupancy. This is normally done via an inventory and condition form which is dated and signed by both the tenant and the landlord. Pictures are also helpful. Without this documentation it will be almost impossible to win a judgment for damages.