Make sure you have a completed rental application from each person responsible for paying rent
The most important items are a social security number and date of birth; names, addresses and phone numbers of near relatives or other emergency contacts; and employment information. Information on bank accounts and credit references is also useful. Updating the application every time the lease is renewed is a good idea.
A well-written lease is critical
If lease language is unclear, or the lease is silent on the issue in question, it may not be possible to negotiate a voluntary payment of a disputed claim. The only recourse in that case would be to subject the claim to courts that generally give tenants the benefit of the doubt in a lease interpretation dispute.
Remember to make sure that everyone has signed the lease
It is also important to make sure the signature on the lease matches the signature of the person whose information is on the application. Each person signing the lease should show identification to make sure they are who they say they are, and that the signature on the lease looks like the signature on the identification.
Keep good records
Detailed move-in/move-out condition reports are extremely valuable. Complete and understandable ledgers are important to prove a claim for rent and late charges. Photographs or video of damage is invaluable in court. A certificate of mailing or a certified mail return receipt should be used when sending security deposit disposition notices.
Follow through on commitments made to the tenant
The landlord's obligations under the lease and the law must be performed. Don't expect any unfilled promises to go unmentioned by your ex-tenants if they owe money. Even minor shortcomings that have little legal effect on how much the tenant owes, as a practical matter, make collection more difficult.
Do not overreach on your charges
When part of a claim is improper or excessive, it makes it more difficult to collect the portions of the claim that are perfectly legitimate. Never attempt to charge the tenant for ordinary wear and tear, and never attempt to impose a penalty, such as deposit forfeiture, for breach of the lease.
Act promptly when an ex-tenant owes you money
Do not let a claim sit around. The more current the information on the tenant, the easier it is to find him.
Get experienced knowledgeable help
If you use a collection agency or attorney to help with your collections, make sure you use one that truly wants this type of account, and has experience handling landlord/tenant disputes. Landlord/tenant accounts are difficult because of the number and variety of disputes that are encountered. It is critical that the person talking to your ex-tenant knows landlord/tenant law to be able to effectively convince the ex-tenant that he owes the money.