Complaint for Money Owed for Landlords During COVID
The Complaint for Money Owed involves recouping financial loss on your rental, and does not necessarily involve going to court for an eviction.
Property management companies in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and landlords, must understand there are alternatives to the eviction process when it comes to collecting debt owned on a property.
As a licensed attorney in the state of North Carolina, and the CEO of Linchpin Property Management, I have noticed that property management companies in Fayetteville, NC, as well as landlords, get tunnel vision when it comes to the means and methods to collect money owed from a tenant.
The entire focus is on the eviction process which, while an option, doesn’t take into account the other available methods you can use for financial recovery.
We are all well aware that pretty much all evictions are at a standstill, either due to state or federal law, and the eviction process of getting a tenant out of your property is pretty much non-existent.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t attempt to collect money owed from a tenant, without having to go through the eviction process.
A quick note. Does this mean the court will allow you to collect? Absolutely not. They may see it as you trying to work around the law, but it doesn’t mean you can’t try.
What is a Complaint for Money Owed to a Landlord?
First, you must understand what you are trying to seek at this point. You aren’t trying to get a tenant evicted, or force the tenant out of the property. What you are attempting to do is collect money that is owed to you.
For now, you “want” the tenant to stay. I put the want in quotes because, by “want,” I mean you don’t have a choice. What you want the tenant to do is, pay the money that is owed to you. You can deal with the eviction process later.
This is a different complaint than an eviction (or as it is called in North Carolina, Summary Ejectment). In North Carolina, you will file a Complaint for Money.
What the Complaint for Money Owed is, is a complaint stating that the tenant owes you money, and you want the court to order the tenant to pay you.
You aren’t, again, asking that the court evict the tenant. This is key, because if you are attempting to have the tenant removed from the property with the current COVID restrictions, your case will be dismissed.
When you file your complaint, ensure you have all of your ducks in a row.
What this means is that you should prepare, prepare, and prepare again.
Here are some steps you should take to prepare for small claims court:
What Documents to Bring to Small Claims Court for Money Owed.
While you are not attempting to evict someone, some of the documents you need to substantiate your Complaint for Money Owed will overlap those you would bring for an eviction proceeding.
Some of the documents you should bring include:
1. A Copy of the Lease Agreement Setting Forth The Money Owed.
The lease and the amount stated in the agreement will be controlling in this case. What this means is that you should bring the lease agreement to show to the judge the negotiated amount between you and the tenant.
2. A Copy of the Accounting for the Property the Tenant is Leasing.
The accounting will show how much money the tenant has paid, and also how much the tenant is delinquent. The accounting, when read in conjunction with the lease, will form the basis of how much money is owed to you.
3. Any Notices you Provided to the Tenant for Your Complaint for Money Owed.
To keep things clear here, what I would suggest is that you provide the tenant with notices that DO NOT mention the eviction process. This means you are not providing a 10 day notice for an eviction.
Instead, provide the tenant with a notice that simply details they owe money for rent, and that you demand payment for the rent. Eviction would be absent from the equation. An example of some language you could use is:
This is to inform you that you are late in your payment in the amount of $1,000.00 agreed upon in our contract dated January 1, 2020. The past due amount is in addition to the $3,000.00 that is currently in arrears, bringing the grand total to $4,000.00 that you owe.
This notice is to inform you that if you do not pay the full amount by July 15, 2020, I will be filing a Complaint for Money Owed with the court on July 16, 2020.
As you can see in this example, you are making it clear that you are asking for payment of past due money, not attempting to evict the tenant for nonpayment of rent.
4. Any Communications Between You and the Tenant Relevant to the Complaint for Money Owed.
Hopefully you have communicated with the tenant in some written form throughout the process. It doesn’t matter the medium, texts, emails, and letters are all fine.
While verbal communication between you and the tenant is admissible, it should not form the sole basis of your evidence. Written communication should be used to bolster your verbal communication, and vice versa.
Another advantage to written communication is that it is there in black and white. There is no altering what was written. While the tenant may attempt to give a different meaning to the words, most judges will go with what was written, so long as the message is clear.
5. Witnesses with Firsthand Knowledge About the Facts and Circumstances of the Complaint for Money Owed.
Witnesses, much like written communication, provide unbiased evidence for the court’s consideration. The more witnesses you can use to support your claim, the better.
This doesn’t mean you bring in more than one witness for the same point. If you are collecting money owed for past due rent, and you want to bring in a witness, you can simply bring in one who can verify a particular element of your case.
Along similar lines, in small claims court, you don’t have to bring any witnesses if the documents more or less speak for themselves. The rules for admission of evidence are pretty relaxed in small claims court. While you have to go through several steps to get documents admitted in district court, the process is a little different in small claims court.
So just think about what can’t be proven with documentary evidence. If something can’t be proven, or if you need a witness to talk about some of the undocumented conversations, then bring them into court with you.
6. Photo or Video of Damaged Property Relevant to the Complaint for Money Owed.
If your complaint for money owed is for damaged property, then you want to include photos and video of the property the tenant damaged.
There is some disagreement among property management professionals about which one is better, and if a court will allow you to enter videos into evidence (or if they have the capability to review them in small claims court).
This shouldn’t be of any consequence to you, and our suggestion is to bring both to court. Additionally, you should have a laptop, or other form of technology, to play the video in court. This avoids the need to rely on the court for technology, and will prevent the court from not admitting your video because they don’t have the means or methods to play it (which is hard to believe in 2020).
7. Invoices for any Damages to Substantiate Loss in Your Complaint for Money Owed.
If your complaint for money owed is for damages, you should include an invoice for the cost of repairs, or at the least an estimate of the cost of repairs. This should be prepared by someone who is qualified to perform the work.
Make sure the invoice you obtain is on the official letterhead of the vendor. You might also ask the vendor to prepare a letter stating how they came up with the costs. We even go so far as sending a draft letter to the vendor, and having them fill in the blanks and signing.
The letter may be a little bit of overkill, but it will lend additional credibility to the court.
Get Your Free Landlord’s Guide to Small Claims Court to Help You Through the Process!
This is just an overview of how you can file a Complaint for Money Owed in small claims court to start the process of recouping some of your financial loss during COVID.
Being prepared is one of the key factors throughout the process.
If you would like a more detailed explanation, along with all the forms you need for the process you can download our Landlord’s Guide to Small Claims Court at the link below.
In our Landlord Guide, we provide you with everything you need to get started, and be successful in small claims court including: Notice Requirements, Filing Documents, How to Admit Documents in Court, Objections to Evidence Offered by the Tenant, Judgments for Possession, Executing Writs, Disposal of Tenant Property, Appealing Judgments, and Preparing for District Court if Needed.
If you have any questions, as the only property management company in Fayetteville, NC led by a retired military attorney, we are here to help.
Just reach out to us for your free landlord consultation by clicking the scheduling link below.
The Team at Linchpin Property Management.
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