DEAR WALDMANS: Tenants are constantly late or never pay. What can I do, legally,
to try and contact them? What can I say to tenants on their answering machines, because
they aren't going to answer their telephone knowing who is calling with the clever
caller-identification unit? Also, how many times can you call a person? If they identify
themselves on the answering machine, what kind of message can you leave? My delinquency
used to be less than 4 percent, but now I am lucky to get it less than 6 percent. I could
really use some help with this situation.
--Need Help in Birmingham, Ala.
DEAR NEED HELP: In our storage business, we have found that tenants that pay late fees once, usually pay late fees twice, three times, over and over. We share your dilemma. All businesses do. Harassment has become a big word in our world, so you must be careful not to harass your tenants. I know you think it helps to deliberately call them over and over again. Sometimes we believe that the tenant must surely become tired of having their phone ring all the time and not being able to answer, knowing it is a bill collector of some sort. It is hard for us, caring about paying our own bills, to understand that some people place so little in their commitments.
As business professionals, we must wear many different hats, including that of the bill collector. It is not easy to pressure someone for their rent, and deciding how to go about it is even harder. What may work for one tenant will not work for another. The best way to understand this is to realize you have many types of people and circumstances. Don't always assume your tenants realize their rent is late. For example, I have a tenant whose rent was several months late, and all the late notices had been sent out. When my manager contacted him at home, he immediately stated he would bring a check by to cover the past-due account. The next day he did just that. My manager verified with the bank that the check was good, closed out the work for the day and deposited the check. A couple of days later, the bank notified us there were insufficient funds to cover the check. I called the tenant's home phone only to find out the line had been disconnected. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that he had taken off and left me with the contents of his unit.
My next step was to call his place of employment. I left two messages over the next several days. He then called me and explained he had given my manager a check that was post-dated, though my manager had not realized this at the time. It turned out to be our fault for not realizing he had given us a post-dated check.
You may call your tenants a reasonable amount of times. If you leave several messages with no response, that seems to be a good indicator that the tenant does not intend to bring the bill current. I would certainly not harass any person to the point of being accused of abuse. Always use your business sense and maintain a sensible and reasonable time frame for collecting your rent.
A father-daughter team, the Waldmans are self-storage owners/operators and attorneys.
In addition, Ms. Waldman holds a master's degree in labor and employment law from
Georgetown University. The Waldmans are co-authors of the industry's leading series of
books on self-storage operations: Getting Started, Forms, Policies & Procedures and
South Carolina Tools. Another creation of Ask The Waldmans are their colorful posters
designed exclusively for the self-storage industry. Comments and questions for ASK THE
WALDMANS may be sent to: The Waldmans, P.O. Box 21416, Charleston, SC 29413.
Views and opinions on legal matters are those of the authors. Professional counsel should be obtained before any determination or positive action is taken.