Can a Landlord Sue a Tenant for Unpaid Rent?

Are you a landlord dealing with unpaid rent? You may have already evicted the tenant. 

Can a landlord sue for unpaid rent? The answer is yes, especially if the tenant owes a large balance. That said, filing a lawsuit may not be necessary. 

You may receive your money during the eviction process. Before filing an eviction lawsuit, the landlord should wait at least three days after tenants receive the eviction notice. The waiting period depends on state law. 

The notice may scare the tenants into paying the full balance. If not, landlords can use the courts to recover the losses. 

This article will examine how landlords can sue tenants for unpaid balances. Let’s explore.  

How Can I Recover Unpaid Rent?

First, landlords can file a suit in small claims court. You must show the court that you made a reasonable attempt to find a new tenant. Further, you must show that the security deposit wasn’t enough to cover the unpaid balance.

Before filing a lawsuit, ensure that you adhered to all landlord rules and regulations, such as:

  • Providing a hospitable dwelling space that’s free of hazards
  • Following the lease terms
  • Providing legal disclosures
  • Following evictions guidelines of your state
  • Following security deposit rules of your state
  • Avoiding housing discrimination

If you’re in the wrong, the court may rule in the tenant’s favor. The court may side with the tenant even if they’re deliberately withholding rent.

The law will protect tenants who don’t pay rent if the landlord engaged in unlawful practices. If the landlord violated the law or the lease, tenants can file a countersuit. 

Is Suing a Tenant a Realistic Option?

In many cases, landlords don’t take tenants to court for rent. That said, it’s the most efficient way to recover the unpaid rent.  Landlords must pay court costs and other fees to commence the litigation process. Many landlords consider the litigation process a hassle that’s not worth the effort. 

You may not be able to recover the legal costs unless noted in the lease agreement. If the lease mentions legal cost coverage in the event of court action, the tenant must pay the court costs. 

What About Court Filing Deadlines? 

In most cases, landlords have up to six years to file a claim, but you should check the laws in your state. Experts advise landlords to file a suit as quickly as possible. Landlords should file a lawsuit within 30 days. 

This is because all parties can recall the short-term details of a case. If you file years later, however, you may fail to win the case because you failed to remember the details accurately. 

Can Landlords Sue Tenants Without a Lease? 

If you entered a verbal rental agreement, you can still sue the former occupant. However, your odds of winning the case are low. Leases are vital because they will protect all parties. If you don’t have a rental agreement, provide as much physical evidence as you can, such as emails, texts, etc. 

Can Landlords Sue for Property Damage?

Yes, a landlord can sue tenants in the event of unit damage. Suing for property damage is dicey because each case depends on the court’s discretion. The landlord must show strong evidence that the tenant caused the damage.

In other cases, a friend or relative of the tenant caused the damage. Nevertheless, the landlord can still sue the tenant. If another party caused the damage, the renter can sue the responsible party. 

What Can Landlords Do With the Security Deposit?

If you’re contending with unpaid dues, you can withhold the deposit. Landlords can use the security deposit in the following ways:

  • Use the money to satisfy the remaining rental balance.
  • Use the money to cover cleanup and/or repair costs. 
  • Use the money to pay late fees.
  • Use the money to pay utility bills. 

If your security deposit is enough to cover the lingering balance, you don’t need to sue the former tenant. Conversely, you can take them to court if the deposit won’t satisfy the debt. You can subtract the deposit from the balance and sue for the remaining balance. 

Can I Sue a Tenant Who Broke the Lease?

You can sue a tenant who broke a lease and moved out early, but there are exceptions. Let’s say you have a fixed-term lease. Renters have a right to break the lease if the landlord violated the lease terms or broke the law.

  • Example: If mold develops in the unit, the tenant has a legal right to move out early.

Overall, the law will side with tenants if they’re contending with hazards that will jeopardize their safety. Additionally, you cannot sue the tenant if you already found a new tenant.

Landlords must advertise the vacant property to prospective tenants before they can sue the previous occupants. If you cannot find a new tenant, you’ll have a strong chance of winning your claim. 

In the case of a month-to-month agreement, the best option is to use the security deposit to satisfy the balance. From there, you can sue the tenant for the leftover balance. For more information on landlord litigation, visit

Dealing With Unpaid Rent the Legal Way

To recover unpaid rent, follow the eviction process first. Then, you can sue the tenant for the unpaid balance. The eviction process and the litigation process are separate.

To win a case, the landlord must follow all laws and regulations. If not, the court may side with the tenant. Regardless of your circumstances, you should hire a landlord attorney for further guidance. You might look into commercial litigation lawyer nz.

Interested in reading more? Read more on our blog to gain insight into other topics. 

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