Seldom is it talked about, but a debt collection procedure should be the top of your list when interviewing for a property manager. A poor debt collection procedure can cost you, as the landlord, a lot of money if there is no clear procedure to follow. From an agency perspective, I can assure you debt collection often gets put to the bottom of the priority list and put in the too hard basket. Most Property Managers dread the conflict conversation that arises from a simple: “you owe money to our Landlord and how are you going to pay it”!
What should a Debt Collection procedure include:
- Conversation templates to be discussed or emailed to the tenants clearly outlining what they owe, when they need to pay it and consequences if they don’t pay it.
- An Education plan for landlords to understand and be aware of the procedure and options for debt collection
- A timeline for the debt collection steps to be escalated
iThink Property has a few simple steps in place to ensure our landlords are achieving maximum returns and aren’t left out of pocket once a tenant vacates their property:
IN-HOUSE RECOVERY – PAYMENT PLAN
Our first step in the debt recovery process is to utilise our conversation and email templates and try to negotiate with our tenants to pay back the money owing promptly. More often than not we engage our Head of Department to negotiate a payment plan with the tenants. This works well especially if relations between the tenant and the property manager have soured throughout the tenancy, a fresh person and a new perspective often makes tenants feel like someone is on their side. The only issue with a payment plan is tracking it is being followed and payments made on time, that is another procedure in itself.
LANDLORDS INSURANCE VS QCAT
A recent QCAT appearance highlighted for us the value of having a Landlord’s Insurance policy. Despite all our checks and selecting the best possible tenants for your property, unfortunately, we can’t control what happens after that. Tenants lose their employment, relationships break down, and life just happens. Sometimes tenants leave owing rent or damages to a property, and of course, we need to ensure our owners aren’t left out of pocket. Traditionally money owed has been recovered through having cases heard at the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Our recent QCAT appearance was over a few thousand dollars, and we won the case. However, it came at a significant financial cost to our owner. Not only did we have to pay the court lodgment fees, but there was also the appearance fee of $220, plus the hourly rate of $30 for iThink to attend. That’s not even the worst of it, once we won and the tenant who didn’t even show up was requested to pay our owner in full, we are left to track down the tenant and recover funds. This is not something an agency does. Usually, our owners then must engage debt collectors to locate the tenants and force them to pay. A good Landlord’s insurance policy costs up to $300 per annum and if we have done the right thing on our end, usually gets paid out in full.
Some of our tips for engaging in a landlord’s insurance policy:
1) Make sure you get one that covers you for loss of rent and malicious damage
2) Make sure you check the excess. Some policies don’t even have an excess. This can really hurt if you are chasing a smaller amount;
3) Add iThink Property or your Property Manager as an authorised party to deal with claims on your behalf.
If you already have a policy please check the details and if you don’t have one please do your research and investigate it, the money is worth it. Please contact our team if you would like more information or advice on Landlord’s Insurance.
DEBT COLLECTION AGENCIES
As mentioned previously Debt Collectors are usually engaged after an appearance at QCAT is successful. Their role is to track down the tenants and force them to pay the amount owing on the court order. Unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t get blood out of a stone. However, debt collectors do have the power to apply to have employer’s wages, and Centrelink payments garnished, but this process can be long and drawn out. Alternatively, more and more our landlords are opting to engage debt collectors instead of going to court and missing that step entirely. This again comes at a cost usually an engagement fee, and then a percentage of money recovered is given to the debt collectors. There is certainly value in this option if you don’t have a Landlord’s policy in place.
So, if you are currently interviewing for a new property management company make sure one of your top questions is “What is your Debt Collection Procedure?”. This will ensure when and if things go wrong at the vacate stage your investment is protected by clear policy and procedure by the agency. It is unrealistic not to expect some out of pocket costs as a long-term landlord at some stage, but if you spend a small amount of money to protect yourself, you will undoubtedly reap the rewards if the you know what hits the fan. Lucky for you that is our mess to clean up not yours…
For more detailed information on the property market and managing your investment, our iThink Property Real Estate Agents and Property Mangement Team in Ipswich and Toowoomba would be happy to assist.