Let Your Rent Ledger be Your Testimony
It’s not possible to prove something that didn’t happen. Instead, you must testify to the fact that it didn’t happen. If your tenant failed to make a rent payment, you must testify as to how much your tenant failed to pay.
That’s simple, right? Sure. If that’s all that happened. Unfortunately, a lot of other things happen in addition to and because of your tenant’s failure to make a payment.
What if your tenant made only a partial payment? Imagine if he failed to make multiple payments…. What if his checks bounced? How about if he failed to make required utility payments? Or what if you applied part of a full rent payment towards past, unpaid late fees?
Rent ledgers are uncomplicated when your tenant pays on time. Not so much when he starts falling behind. As the landlord, it is YOUR responsibility to maintain accurate records of your tenants’ payment histories. And regardless of whether you plan on self-representing in eviction court or you are hiring an attorney to represent you, it will also be YOUR responsibility to provide an easy-to-understand rent ledger. That can become a challenge, particularly when your tenant habitually pays late.
Try my COMPLETELY FREE rent ledger template here:
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The Makings of a GREAT Rent Ledger
I’ve handled hundreds of eviction trials. I can tell you for sure: the only thing annoys Judges more than a confusing, sloppy payment ledger is no payment ledger at all. Judges have little patience for landlords who have to assemble their case on the fly by referencing multiple bank statements, check copies, photocopies of NSF checks, and lease agreements. Your Judge will not patiently wait as you try to recall every transaction that should be on your rent ledger. Your Judge expects a rent ledger. More importantly, your Judge wants a well-constructed rent ledger.
Rent ledgers Judges appreciate include the following characteristics:
- Visual queues. The information on the ledger is structured in such a way that the information the reader is looking for jumps out at them.
- One line per transaction. The rent ledger does not combine transactions. Things like late fees and NSF fees will be assigned their own line item. They are not combined with other transactions, requiring the reader to guess at what actually happened.
- Credits are easily distinguished from debits. Using red text for a debit is an OK method of identifying debits. So is enclosing the debit amounts like <$this>. But red text does not jump out on photocopies. And placing debits and credits in the same column or row can make your rent ledger look cluttered. There’s a better way.
- Transactions are grouped by month. Your rent ledger should, of course, present data in chronological order. But the data should also help the reader easily identify which transactions go with which months.
- The balances are accurate. Always use a spreadsheet to create your rent ledger. Never use tables from word processing applications. They rarely permit formulas. Never manually calculate your balance and enter them in manually. Your computer is much better at math!
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