Collector - October 2017 - 12
What you need to know when handling landlord-tenant accounts.
By Anne Rosso May
roperty management debt is
a unique collection niche that
requires you to have a firm grasp
of industry-specific terminology and flex
your customer service skills in order to have
effective conversations with consumers.
In the excitement of moving into a new
apartment or home, renters may overlook
key pieces of their lease or rental agreement.
Likewise, when the time comes for them
to move out, they may not fully recall the
obligations to which they initially agreed.
In your collection conversations, you'll
likely be discussing past due rent, damage
fees, lease terminations and even utility
bills, so the more you understand these
things, the more helpful you can be. For
instance, do you know what counts as
damage and what counts as "normal wear
In addition to following federal debt
collection laws such as the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act, you should also
be familiar with state-specific laws, such as
those governing security deposits.
In Oregon, for example, failing to account
for the security deposit within 30 days of
move-out can result in twice the deposit plus
lawyer fees being owed if you are sued, and
there are no "non-refundable deposits" even
if the contract calls for them.
You must be able to recognize and
respond to stalls and objections, while also
understanding what could be a liability to
your agency or client. A stall is a delay tactic
used when the consumer is trying to buy
time and avoid talking about the debt. An
objection, on the other hand, is the honest
reason why the person will not or cannot
pay the bill. Each requires active listening
skills and persistence to help the consumer
determine how to resolve the debt.
An important note: if the consumer
believes she does not rightfully owe the
debt, that's a dispute, which triggers both
Fair Credit Reporting Act and FDCPA
requirements for specific actions.
Property management debt often
requires significant skiptracing resources
as consumers may have relocated. You'll
need to work through the emergency
contact information for the consumer or call
relatives to try to get a new address.
Keep in mind that under the FDCPA,
generally the only time you can reach
out to a third-party is if you are looking
to verify contact information, so limit
your conversation accordingly when
skiptracing. Additionally, asking that
third-party to pass along a message to the
consumer could arguably be "conveying"
information about the debt, which is
prohibited under the act.
Consumers will likely have a lot of
questions about their account and may
draw you into a debate about their deposit,
what they did or didn't damage, and who
actually lived in the property and when.
In these situations, you'll need to refer
to client-provided information, such as
check-in/check-out lists, before and after
photos and agreement amendments.
Keep an eye out for potential liabilities
that may have originated from client
agreements, and take careful notes in the
account. Identifying issues quickly can
help you keep your agency and clients out
of legal trouble.
Customer service skills play a big part
in the debt collection process. In all your
attempts to engage the consumer and
collect the debt, be conscious of the fact
that property management companies and
landlords often want renters to return,
so be polite, friendly and helpful when
assisting consumers in resolving their past
Anne Rosso May is editor of Collector